As the consultant shared the usual questions he asked and I knew my ministry would not hold up well to those inquiries, I realized my problem. Of course, part of me was uncomfortable for the usual reasons, but the reason it drew me to the level of panic was because I knew I was being held up against a rubric not designed for me. My ministry did not have some of the typical markers of health, but had other markers of health which would not be measured. I felt set up for failure—with an extra pressure not to be “too sensitive” if the assessment showed opportunities for growth.
One of the important factors in all this is that my default is to empathize and defer. Not all women have my personality, and I know there are many who are born with more certainty in their own perspectives than I naturally have. Regardless of our personality types, culture often teaches women we should understand and accommodate. When the predominant way of operating has been shaped by men for centuries, it’s a survival skill to adapt to a world not shaped by our values or ways of operating. Truthfully, there just aren’t many leadership development resources that relate to who I am and how I’ve been socialized. I’ve seen plenty of leadership resources to help the traditional leader personality (that is, those confident in their own ideas) to be collaborative, to develop listening skills and humility. I haven’t seen many resources to help the empathic leader discern when their own ideas get swamped by the ideas and needs and feelings of everyone else. I’ve never read an article that teaches me how to stop caring so much about how my decisions might make other people feel.
I’m still figuring this out but here are some ways I’m learning to move forward:
Share how you hear their words.
It may help both you and the person offering critique if you can say, “When you say this, you may or may not mean it, but here’s what I hear.” Even the process of discerning how to present the situation in this way may help you remember messages you’ve picked up from previous experiences. It may help you begin to distinguish what is actually being said here and what other memories you’re bringing to it.