Culture

5 Myths of Men and Women Leading Together

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I have been leading with men as long as I can remember.

My younger brother and I were born ready to take charge of our nuclear family—which wasn’t going to happen due to our two leadership-oriented parents. They set the two of us on a path to grow in our leadership by putting us together and telling us to work as a team.

Ever since then, I’ve had countless opportunities to lead with men in life, work, and ministry. It hasn’t always been easy, it is never efficient, but it’s proven to be the most effective leadership strategy I’ve experienced. I currently engage in co-leading with my husband and our various joint ventures as a couple and then as the co-Lead Pastor of my church. (My co-Lead Pastor, Michael Binder, and I did a webinar with Missio Alliance on co-pastoring that you can find here.

I have had countless opportunities to lead with men in life, work and ministry. It hasn’t always been easy, it is never efficient, but it’s proven to be the most effective leadership strategy I’ve experienced. Click To Tweet

Over the years of leading with men and also coaching many women and men as they lead together, I have found that there are many tips and strategies that can help us grow as leaders. However, there are also some myths I often see people believing that easily hold us back from thriving in these God-given partnerships.

Myth # 1: Men and women can’t lead together.

We know this is a pervasive belief among many who hold theological views that prevent women from leading in most or all situations. However, there are those who believe in principle that women and men can lead together, yet still default to this myth when it comes to the practical reality. Many people have not actually seen men and women lead together. Even in the corporate world, true co-gendered team leadership is difficult to find. Or perhaps the few examples people have seen have not been either ideal or positive. These realities can keep the myth alive and well.

Myth # 2: The future is female.

This slogan dates back to the 1970s and has been an encouragement to many women who have felt unheard and underrepresented. I can see why this phrase has been meaningful to some, and I appreciate the underlying motivation to empower women. But such as with all slogans, printing it on a t-shirt doesn’t make it true.

Sometimes I hear sentences like, “If women ruled the world, things would be better.” While I think there is more room for women at nearly every table of position in our world, if women had “absolute power” that power would “corrupt absolutely” just as it does for male leaders. I deeply hope that we see more women leading in all spaces in society. However, as Jesus-followers, we embrace a vision of a future new creation, where all that God created good will be made new and restored. And God gives us a new and improved version of Genesis 1 and 2 with men and women co-laboring and co-working with God. We will be walking with no shame and no desire to abuse power in the manner articulated in the Genesis 3 curse, and instead living out God’s perfect Kingdom reality.

What our future actually holds: a new and improved version of Genesis 1 and 2 with men and women co-laboring and co-working with God. Click To Tweet

Myth # 3: Pursuing co-leadership is too hard and not worth it.

This myth is favored by those who tend to be very practical. The way that structures will need to change and the adaptive leadership needed to transition to teams with both men and women leading together is hard work. The excuses emerge with ease: how will we have the same intimacy on the team? How will meetings, conferences, and traveling need to change? How do we respond to those who believe Myth #1? The list could go on.

Every organization needs to find the right pace of change for any transformation that is needed. It’s also important for those in leadership to understand that those who have not seen themselves previously represented as leaders may be hesitant to step up when first asked. Deeper discussion and multiple respectful requests may be needed until those who have been marginalized are ready to use their voices. Especially when a person is asked to be a barrier-breaking “first” in a leadership context, she may initially say no.

Deeper discussion and multiple respectful requests may be needed until those who have been marginalized are ready to use their voices. Click To Tweet

Often the organizational changes that are the most important to make are also the most difficult and complex. But we have the chance to join God in reversing the Genesis 3 curse, day by day, knowing that relational brokenness isn’t the end of God’s story for us. No matter how much time it will take, and how many courageous conversations will need to take place to push change forward, it is worth it!

Myth # 4: Policies and rules will prevent problems.

When organizations begin to consider how teams will shift and change when both genders are at the table, they often concurrently begin to create policies to accompany the shifts. I am an advocate for healthy and thoughtful policies. However, the deepest problems won’t be prevented because of a well-worded policy. There is only one thing that will prevent potential problems that could arise from women and men being on a team together. That one thing is the character of those on the team.

The deepest problems won’t be prevented because of a well-worded policy. There is only one thing that will prevent potential problems that could arise from women and men being on a team together: the character of those on the team. Click To Tweet

Character is what prevents the worst-case scenarios that come to mind such as affairs, assault, or harassment. Policies can be helpful guardrails, but they can also be harmful when we aren’t careful to observe their outcomes. For instance, a policy about men and women not traveling together might be wise; however, the time I spend with my female interns traveling with me to conferences or speaking engagements are full of mentorship opportunities. It is up to me as a senior leader to be creative about how I can similarly invest in my male interns in other ways.

Myth # 5: Men and women can’t truly mentor each other.

I define mentorship as investing leadership wisdom, sharing experience, and giving advice to other leaders. It’s so important for leaders of both genders to be mentored by and to mentor those of the opposite sex. Will this need to look differently and require creativity to do well? Yes—but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to do effectively.

There have been so many times when a man has told me how the first spiritual conversations he had in his life were with the women in his life: his mom, auntie, grandma, or female Sunday school teacher. Additionally, statistics prove how important it is for women to be in healthy relationships with men of strong character. As we become adults, we still have this same need for people of the opposite gender to invest in us. The nature of the relationship will need to look different from same-gendered mentoring, but the need remains.

We can also take the initiative to be a “sponsor” for younger leaders. When I recommend one of the men I mentor to speak at an event or connect him with a future employer, I am taking mentorship to the next level. Younger leaders need both mentorship and sponsorship to reach their potential.

There may be other myths that you have observed that would be helpful to be named. If you see these myths emerge in your contexts, I encourage you to raise awareness about them. Calling them out is a first step towards the immense blessings that we will experience if we stay committed to leading together well. In my life of co-leading with men, there certainly have been many challenges, but I’m more convinced than ever that it’s worth it. Not only for our current generation, but for all those who will follow us.

For a deeper conversation about shared leadership in the church, register today for the free #ChurchTogether event taking place on Friday, November 15th (1-2:30 p.m. ET)!

*The Myths of Men and Women Leading together concept was designed by Miriam Knight and the Created Female team from Columbia Missouri.

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