Inspire or Expire

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Did you know that to INSPIRE means to BREATHE? My husband is trained as a respiratory therapist and when he was in school, he was always talking about inspiration. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that inspiration is to breathe in and expiration is to breathe out, or to die.

I was getting a presentation ready for the State of Oklahoma on Employee Engagement and what really gets people plugged into an organization’s vision, mission and culture. Being able to INSPIRE others was a theme that emerged from all the research. Inspiring means to motivate others to go out of their comfort zone. It means to stimulate or get people charged up – not just about coming to work day in and day out, but to truly get them to see how their daily work can have a lasting impact on the organization and their community.

Encouraging others is a constant theme for me as I mentor other women in business (see CCBWOKC on Facebook). To be able to breathe life can be daunting… especially on those days that I might be struggling to even get ready in the morning. So how do you do this? How do you inspire others to be something different?

For me, the answer comes through the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew word for the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of God is “RUACH.” Ruach means wind or breath. It’s an onomatopoeia which means that the word is the same as the sound it makes. This is the same Ruach God breathes into Adam in Genesis 2:7 (KJV)~ And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. The breath of life is the same as the inspiration we should pray for today. God is the same  yesterday, today and tomorrow. He doesn’t change. The same breath he breathed into Adam is the same inspiration you need today.

The way to help others is to share words that bring life to others. As Christians, our speech should always be full of grace, seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). By the way, this is the verse I use for the header of my blog! For me, it means that if my words are not glorifying to God and wrapped in love, I should not be speaking them. This is not easy to do!  However, if you become mindful of what you are getting ready to say to someone and think about it for just a second or two, you can quickly evaluate to see if it is tearing down or building up.

Inspiration is to breathe into someone, to encourage, build up and motivate. Let’s focus on doing these things instead of discouraging, tearing down, and hurting. Inspire others so you can be a light in the darkness!

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Saudi Arabia: Welcome to the 21st Century!

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Saudi Arabia issued a royal decree yesterday, allowing women to finally be able to drive. My mother worked as an OB/GYN in Saudi Arabia in the 1970’s. She was a practicing physician who had to have a mahram (a male chaperone from immediate family or husband) and could not drive to work. This made it very difficult for my father and my mother, since he would have to travel for his work. She tells me stories of how she would be denied transportation by taxi drivers who feared being seen with a woman who was not related to them.

One story stands out in my mind. She had an emergency call from the hospital and they needed her to come to attend one of her patients immediately. My father was traveling to another city and was not present. She called another female friend to come with her so she would not go alone. The taxi driver would not even allow them to explain themselves. He drove away in a hurry. She then called the hospital and told them they would need to send transportation for her. They refused. No one wanted to break the law that would land them immediately into jail for several violations (picking up an unrelated woman, driving her without her mahram, not reporting this to the authorities, etc).

Women in the United States go blissfully about their business daily. We take for granted many civil liberties that are offered to us without a second thought to other women who have to live by antiquated laws. I wrote another blog on women’s identity in Islam here Women have never been able to drive in the country because it was ruled by Muslim clerics that the additional freedom would impede restrictions on them (and yes, one cleric incorrectly hypothesized that driving affects women’s ovaries and pelvis).

While we can celebrate the fact that Saudi Arabia has finally made it to the 21st century, there are many other limitations placed on women. Driving is just the first (small) step. There are strict guardianship laws that are dictated by Islamic Law. Women there still need men’s permission to have medical procedures done and even see a physician! Where is the outrage at that?

Even in the United Kingdom, there are Muslim clerics who call for restrictions on women. There is an article here by the UK Telegraph that shares how a ruling went out that forbids British Muslim women to go more than 48 miles radius without a male family chaperone. All of this reminds me to be thankful of the freedoms we have here in America. We have freedom to drive, to seek medical attention, to go to school and to work. We have freedom to practice religion and to worship.

May we THANK men and women who have fought for our nation and may we THANK GOD for allowing us to live here!

~But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!

2 Corinthians 3:16-17

Reaching Muslims in Love

Most in the West do not understand the implications of witnessing to a Muslim. They don’t understand that there is a huge cost to pay to follow Jesus Christ. In fact, a Muslim  who turns their back to Islam — like me, is guilty of apostasy and must be put to death. Muslims here in the US will regularly tell you that this is a religion of peace, however, this command from the Quran is carried out in all Muslim countries, where it is enforced by Sharia. In the US, Muslims can face kidnapping, beatings from family members, and being disowned from the family.
When I accepted Christ, I knew the risk I was taking. I am not saying this as a “holier than thou” attitude, but as a reality. At the least, I had been taught that becoming a Christian was one of the worst things you could do. When a Muslim accepts Christianity, their fate in the afterlife is  to automatically be placed into one of the deepest levels of hell. Here are other verses that state what the fate of one who does not believe in Islam can be:
Quran

A Muslim can kill any person he wishes if it be a “just cause” Surah 6:152

– Allah loves those who “fight for his cause” Surah 61:3
Anyone who fights against Allah or renounces Islam in favor of another religion shall be “put to death or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off alternative sides” Surah 5:34

But those who reject Faith after they accepted it, and then go on adding to their defiance of Faith,- never will their repentance be accepted ; for they are those who have (of set purpose) gone astray.  Surah 3:90

Any one who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters Unbelief,- except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith – but such as open their breast to Unbelief, on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty. Surah 16:106

Those who believe, then reject faith, then believe (again) and (again) reject faith, and go on increasing in unbelief,- Allah will not forgive them nor guide them nor guide them on the way.  Surah 4:137

Hadith (traditions of Mohammad)

A Muslim can kill any person he wishes if it be a “just cause” (Sura 6:152).

Abd-Allah ibn Masood said : The Messenger of Allah said : “It is not permissible to shed the blood of a Muslim who bears witness that there is no god except Allah and that I am the Messenger of Allah, except in one of three cases : a soul (in case of murder) ; a married person who commits adultery ; and one who leaves his religion and separates from the main body of Muslims.” Sahih Al Bukhari number 6484 and Sahih Muslim number 1676

Whoever changes his Islamic religion, kill him. Sahih Al-Bukhari (9:57)

 

When you have been born into the religion (as I was) and you away, you are looked upon as worse than an infidel (one who was never a believer of Islam in the first place). It’s considered treason, for Islam is both religion and law of the State.

When witnessing to a Muslim, there needs to be an understanding of the seriousness of the cost to the person. Persecution is inevitable, even in the United States. However, I personally have taken that into account and know that following Christ is worth that cost.

There are several things you can do if you believe God is calling you to reach Muslims. I have created a bookmark so you can print it out & easily remember:

Bookmark-How to witness to muslims

  1. PRAY

Prayer is the most powerful weapon we have against the spiritual forces. Prayer opens up the power of heaven and allows us to plug into the Holy Spirit’s prompting. Do not depend on yourself to have the smooth speech. Ask God’s Holy Spirit to share words that give life to others and are wrapped in love

2. MAKE EYE CONTACT

Kind of hard to do when someone is wearing a full burqa, but still try to do it. A genuine smile is the start of any authentic relationship! Sometimes, we get into a hurry and don’t listen to what God is telling you. A super quick prayer and a smile may bring about a beautiful friendship with someone from a diverse background.

3. EXTEND HOSPITALITY

Why do we have beautiful homes and we never invite anyone in? Why do we have nice kitchens and never offer to cook for anyone? Hospitality is a part of the culture for Muslims. It used to be this way for Americans as well. In our busy lifestyles, no one has time. Extend an invitation – just a cup of coffee or tea will do!

4. TALK ABOUT JESUS!

Hey! That’s who I want to talk about all the time anyway, so why not ask what they think of Him… you might be surprised! If that’s too risky for you, ask how your new Muslim friend sees God. Ask them to define His character and see where that conversation goes. Muslims are pious. They enjoy talking about God!

5. SHARE THE GOOD NEWS

Many Christians leave out the most important part. I have heard people say “well, I want to show Christ in my actions.” That is wonderful! However, that’s not the end of the story. How will they know if they never hear who Christ is and of His sacrifice for us on the cross. How will they know that God gave us salvation and His grace as a free gift. We cannot earn our way to heaven. ONLY CHRIST has paid our debt, bridged the gap to God and will come back to judge all.

6. BE PATIENT!

This is a relationship… not a pet project. A Muslim is a person, a human being. They are a person connected to a family. They need love and respect and deserve to be treated with kindness. On average, it takes a Muslim about 7 years to accept Christ. Remember, there is a lot at stake and it’s not an overnight decision. After conversion, be ready to disciple your friend & don’t leave them to wither on the vine.

It’s a matter of sharing your love, compassion and care for a hurting world. These are ways you can reach anyone (not just Muslims). If your heart is in the right place and you have prepared with the word of the Lord, God will help you! You are not on your own.

If you would like to know more about my journey, please check out my book:

From Isa to Christ: A Muslim Woman’s Search for the Hand of God

El Roi – God Who Sees Me

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Can you imagine having a Muslim covering on while at the airport? We all know how difficult it is to travel with the hassles of airport security but for one woman, this was compounded by wearing a hijab and dealing with little ones, passing through security and then feeling like all eyes are upon you.

A friend and I were on the way to Florida a few years ago. A young woman in a hijab caught my eye while getting on the plane – not because of her hijab, but truly because of her lovely little children. They were darling and were seated a few rows behind us. Having my crochet stuff in hand and a long flight, I settled in to see if I could whip up matching crochet hats for the little ones. It was a bit stressful, but somehow, it was done. When the plane stopped and everyone jumped up, I said hello and gave her the gift of my hands. She was shocked and so was her husband. They had the largest smiles on their faces when they saw my backpack full of yarn. She quickly asked me for my name and we connected on Facebook. This was a chance encounter – over two years ago.

This morning, I opened a package in the mail… it was a hand-written note and the most beautiful beaded jewelry that took my breath away from the same woman. She said she was not good on time management and I am sure any woman with little children can attest to that.   It’s not about the timing of the note, it’s not even about the woman who gave the gift of her own hands, but it’s about God who sees me and knows what I love.

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The gift comes at a time that I offered up everything to God in prayer. This is not a shallow offering, but one of taking a step out in faith. I know that He has good plans for me. These plans may not look anything like I want or even foresee. But I know that God is the One who sees us. He is El Roi.

Genesis 16 says that Hagar was sent to Arabia after Sarah (Abraham’s wife) treated her harshly after she learned that she had conceived Abraham’s child. She prayed to God in her distress and he answered her. The Bible says in Genesis 16:13 thatShe gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me (El Roi). Muslims, Christians and Jews believe this to be true.

I know that God knows my heart and this morning’s package of jewelry and beautiful hand-beaded work was a love note directly from Him. He knows the details of your life and the desires of your heart. Offer yourself up to Him as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) and watch what He does with your life.  He is the Almighty God and when He is involved in the details, there is nothing and no one who can harm you. He reminds us of this in Hebrews 13:6 “So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

So with that in mind and in prayer, why don’t you reach out to a Muslim TODAY with love?Why not share in the talents and gifts God has given you? Why not invite someone of a different and even challenging belief to a meal in your home? Why not do something positive and encouraging for a world that is hurting? Do not fear and do not be afraid – especially of sharing your love that is in Christ Jesus.

Who knows? You might be a recipient of someone’s love two years later!

May God be given all the glory. Amen.

 

HR View on Mike Pence’s Stance on Women

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USA Today photo

Some of you may know that I teach Human Resources (HR) and do Corporate Training. I have taught many courses including  Business Etiquette, Business Ethics, Human Resources regulations and Cultural Diversity. When I do Executive Coaching for Businesses, we discuss not only business related topics but also personal conduct in the workplace.

I try not to watch the news or read the paper. The news bothers me and I find it depressing for the most part. Yet, I find that my friends always fill me in on what’s going on as it relates to my passions. A sweet friend told me on Friday about the media frenzy surrounding Mike Pence following the Billy Graham rule about not being alone with a woman (other than his wife). This was reported first by Laura Turner of the Washington Post article here about Karen Pence and her support of her husband. The description at the start of the article is surprisingly sweet, giving examples of how Mike Pence and his wife support one another and care deeply as a faithful, married couple. It’s towards the middle of the article that raises questions about the current times, stating “But colleagues and employees engage in a relationship between grown-ups who ought to be able to have an appropriate work-related conversation or a meal together” [bold & italics mine]. True, if we all could get along, then maybe people who are grown-ups wouldn’t sue one another or talk about each other behind their backs either. The very next line gets to the heart of the matter “Affairs start in secrecy, and to guard against them is good.” This is why Billy Graham started his rules – so that all he did was out in the open. As an Evangelical Pastor on the global stage, he had to protect himself and guard against things that could be misconstrued by others.

I am shocked at the media backlash this has garnered. Given the amount of lawsuits served up in the HR field, male and female relationships in the workplace are tenuous. For people in higher positions, this can mean being at further risk for workplace lawsuits and also personal lawsuits. For example, I generally advise managers to keep the door ajar when doing performance reviews (good or bad ones – doesn’t matter) so that employees will not charge them with duress or false imprisonment. Before you balk at that, there have been cases where someone of the opposite sex claimed both sexual harassment and also duress during a closed-door performance review. She stated that her male boss made inappropriate comments to her, said that he would raise her ratings for sexual favors and then wouldn’t let her leave because the door was closed (not locked, but simply closed). He denied all accusations, he was well-respected by his staff, but the company settled the case out of court because they did not want to go through the expense of fighting he said/she said in public.

The same holds true for lunch time conversation or long car trips. Why put yourself into that position with someone of the opposite sex? Why not invite someone else to go with you? My recommendation is always this: if you are a female in a position of authority and you want to invite a male to lunch to discuss something, have lunch in the company break room or cafeteria, where others can publicly see you and you are accessible. Do not go to another location outside of work by yourselves. Invite another person to go. This way, if there is an accusation of wrongdoing, at least you have another witness present.

I believe that both Billy Graham and Mike Pence are both correct on this issue, not just from a religious viewpoint that honors and protects their spouse and marriage but also from a secular, business viewpoint. Placing yourself into a situation that can cause doubts and show favoritism can cause tongues to wag in the workplace. This is a great way to invite lawsuits. I’m not the only one with this viewpoint. In a blog  titled “When Genders Matter” by Molly Donovan for The Muse, the same idea is supported. It’s not just a matter of male and female anymore either. The same principle holds true for transgender and LGBT orientation. The person across from you could be another female who may make sexual advances towards you as a female boss. It could be a male employee having lunch with a gay manager who might make inappropriate advances.

In this day and age, it’s good to error on the safe side. Yes, you may offend people when you leave the door slightly open. Yes, you may offend people when you ask for someone else to join you on the one hour drive to the client meeting. However, at the end of the day, you may find that it’s a bit easier to sleep at night knowing that you are not crossing the lines or sending out messages that could be misinterpreted by others.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and profound insight, 10 so that you can discern what best, that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.… Philippians 1:9-11

As Christians, we are held to a higher standard by God. We are to look towards Christ and not allow ourselves to be placed in situations that may mar our witness. May we choose to err on the side of caution and use the Holy Spirit’s gift of discernment to conduct ourselves in a way that’s stated in Philippians 4:8 ~ “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. ”

Think about how the world will perceive you when you go out for lunch or go for drinks with that ONE female employee after work. Think about what that does to your reputation (man or woman) in the workplace. Think most of all about what message that is sending out about you as a child of God. Mike Pence is suffering from media backlash, but from the examples given about his daily choice to not be alone with women, his witness as a Christian man is to be blameless in his interactions with others. May we all strive to focus on what God wants and not what the world wants. Amen.

On Labor and Work

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Today is the day that the United States pays homage to the contribution made by workers and to the resulting productivity and commerce. For me, it’s a curious thing to not do work in order to think about and pay tribute to work. A bit of irony…

When I moved to the US and first heard the term “Labor Day, ” I thought it was a day to commemorate mothers who have had children, but then I realized that “Mother’s Day” did that already earlier in the year. There are so many holidays that made no sense to me as an immigrant. Maybe I thought too much about all of this and should have simply enjoyed another day off.

The freedictionary.com defines labor as:

la·bor

(lā′bər)

n.

1. Physical or mental exertion, especially when difficult or exhausting; work. See Synonyms at work.
2. A specific task or effort, especially a painful or arduous one: “Eating the bread was a labor I put myself through toquiet my stomach” (Gail Anderson-Dargatz).
3. A particular form of work or method of working: manual labor.
4. Work for wages: businesses paying more for labor.

5.a. Workers considered as a group.

   b. The trade union movement, especially its officials.
6. Labor A political party representing workers’ interests, especially in Great Britain.
7. The process by which childbirth occurs, beginning with contractions of the uterus and ending with the expulsion of the fetus or infant and the placenta.
In essence, I was ignoring the definitions #3 – 6 and focused on 1, 2 and 7. The Bible sets the standard for both WORK and LABOR right at the beginning, in Genesis. We see God at work, creating the Heavens and the Earth because on the seventh day, He rested. Genesis 2:2-3  says “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” God also gave Adam a job to do in the garden. As I mentioned in another blog post titled “Bringing LIFE to Work,” Adam’s duties for work didn’t change after the Fall – instead, everything became more difficult, frustrating and arduous. That was the price of sin entering into a perfect world.
Labor came into play for Eve as well. In Genesis 3:16, “To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” So Eve, in essence, also gets work assigned to her in a different way. While the ground will bring about thorns and thistles for Adam and cause him great frustration, Eve’s pain comes from her children… sound familiar to anyone?
In our home, we have a measure of relative peace. It is common, however, for my husband to call me with great frustrations from his work – from contracts that are not going well, customer care, to employee issues = thorns and thistles. For me, even though I work in the business world, it doesn’t seem to bother me as much as it does for him. I’m not sure why that is. However, hand me a kid-related issue and I go crazy! One of the translations (KJV) says it a bit differently ” I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children…” I think with teenagers, I can relate to the “sorrow” part due to the heartaches we deal with.
It is a true testimony to the love we bear one another that we even have children and families. Men and women take on a lot when they are the sole earners for their families. It’s a tough burden to bear. Many women who choose to stay at home are not dismissed from the Labor and Work category. In fact, as someone who took years off to be exclusively at home with our children, I can attest to the fact that at least at work you can get a coffee break or a bathroom break without someone barging in with a request! Marriage takes love, sacrifice and work. Children take love, sacrifice and work (and no thanks many times). Families take a lot of love, sacrifice and work, yet millions of people sign on willingly to do all of this.
In a culture that is trying to break down marriage, family and the home, it’s a good day to reflect upon the work that you do apart from work in the office also. Take into consideration what God has worked on to show you His love and sacrifice. In turn, offer that to others by sharing what the Lord has given you.
From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good, and the work of a man’s hand comes back to him. ~Proverbs 12:14
May you glorify God in all you do and may your work be blessed. Amen.

Identity

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About two years ago, Saudi Arabia passed a law that allowed women to have an identity card (see article from Riyadh Times). Why is that such a big deal? Prior to that, according to Quranic laws, women had to bring male acquaintances along with them to identify who they were. You see, women are not allowed to testify in court unless they have been identified and the only way they can do that is to have men establish their true identity for the judge. Of course, if the case was due to adultery or accusations of a sexual nature, women were reluctant to bring men (or might not be able to find a man who would vouch for them).

This is the predicament women find themselves in some countries. In the West, we have so many freedoms that we take them all for granted and don’t really give it another thought. If you want an identity card or driver’s license, you just go, pay a small fee and get it. No one questions you.

Yet, it is in the West that I find so many women struggle with their identity. I have women who come to me for Executive Coaching for work. These are women in high positions who don’t really know who they are. I also talk to stay at home moms who seem to have lost their way, teenagers who don’t understand which role they should play, how they should dress, which group would be most accepting of them. Why is that?

Society throws different ideas around of who women are (sexual objects, wife, mother, I am a goddess, hear me roar, etc) and I am convinced that the women’s lib movements caused more confusion by saying you can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. You don’t need to depend on anyone but yourself. Right after the movements of the 60’s and 70’s, the US saw divorce rates go through the roof. Women initiate 2/3 of the Divorces in the United States (see article for study). It doesn’t stop there. Harvard Health reported that the use of anti-depressants in the US has increased a whopping 400% since 1994. They estimate that 1 in 10 takes an anti-depressant… women’s lib isn’t really panning out to be the answer, is it?

So where is the answer? Both men and women search for their identity. We turn to others as if they have the answer for us. Chances are that they haven’t even figured it out themselves. The answer lies in the One who made us. Genesis 1:27 says that “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” In one of my favorite passages of Genesis 2:21-22, God creates Woman “21So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.…” It’s interesting to note that Adam noticed that creation was not complete without a helper for him and even more interesting to see that Adam is put to sleep while God does “divine surgery” on him. We can infer from the passage that when Eve was created, she also was alone with God. Herein lies the secret to our identity. Not only were we created in God’s image and bear a stamp of his likeness, but we get a close-up view of how God feels about us when we spend time alone with Him.

I am most confused when I listen to the voices of the world “You should do this” “Why are you spending time on that?” or “You would be good at that.” These are well-meaning family and friends, but the One who really knows you before you were even born (Psalm 139) is the One you should turn to first to find out who you are and what you should be doing. When we establish our identity through others (“oh, she’s the pretty one” or “she’s a cut-throat business woman”), we continue on in our own insecurities and weaknesses.

It wasn’t until I met Christ that I found out who I was. I was looking towards my dad (whom I love dearly) to provide everything I needed in life. When I got married, I simply transferred all those expectations on to my husband (whom I love dearly). What a huge burden for him to bear! Christ says “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28. He didn’t say to give all your burdens and expectations and place them upon others to fulfill you. Yet, that’s what we do! We expect our boss to know what we need to be happy at work. We expect our spouse to know what makes us happy at home. We expect our children to know what makes us happy as parents. However, none is better equipped to bring you true JOY than the Lord.

God has invited us into a relationship with Him. Some of the words God uses to describe us are: Forgiven. Chosen. Redeemed. Holy. Beloved. Child. Heir. New Creation. Cleansed. Daughter. Glory of Man.

So when you find yourself saying:

I am worthless     REMEMBER: Matthew 6:26 ~Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

I am a failure     REMEMBER: Phil 4:13 ~I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

I am unlovable   REMEMBER: Romans 8:39 ~nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I have so much guilt   REMEMBER: Isaiah 43:25 ~I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

I have nothing   REMEMBER: Phil 4:19 ~And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Don’t listen to the voices that accuse. Listen to the voice that gives life. God is the One who created us and He is our heavenly Father who loves us. This is your identity as one created in His image. You bear the fingerprints of God. If you get confused and find out that you have no plan or feelings of self-worth, turn to the scriptures for the truth of who you are and why you were created.

My prayer for you: Lord, thank you for creating me in your image. Help me to see myself and others with your eyes. Help me to not elevate myself over others or you and to not let myself be degraded by others opinions. I want to live in your light, as you are in the light. Amen.

 

 

LeadHERship

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What’s the deal with women in power? As a young, driven woman who was just starting out her career,  I made many mistakes and let power get to my head. Some mistakes were small and others could have impacted or even curtailed my career, like the error of not following chain of command in a traditional organization like Campbell Soup Company. Fortunately for me, I had a kind and generous mentor named Chuck Hatz who was able to step in and guide me through management pitfalls.

As I look back on that experience, I realize that not many are blessed to have another give them advice on how to maneuver or even advance on the corporate ladder. In fact, I realized slowly that the ones who were the least helpful in my career path were WOMEN. Before I heap accusations on those women who did not mentor me or even lend a kind word of encouragement, I need to look at my own actions as a manager as well.

When I joined the management ranks, I was a supervisor. I worked mainly with two men, so things were good. When the opportunity to rise higher into a manager’s position, however, the battle lines were drawn and I quickly found out that I didn’t have many friends. In fact, most of my competition were women of equal rank. It was cut throat. I found out after I got the position mainly due to my education, that a woman closest to me had said something personal and derogatory about me to the VP. He thought it to be unprofessional (especially in Human Resources), so he did not even consider her for the position. Her desire to hurt me ended up getting her booted out.

This woman was a colleague. She was someone I had lunch with on a regular basis, so it didn’t rest easy with me. It was around this time that I had been looking at Japanese management traditions of Kaizen (collaborative management) and found that before making any big decision or doing problem solving, they went to their peers individually and got input. I thought that to be a huge waste of time! Why do that when I knew what needed to be done and go do it?

This very thing turned out to be the key in why women were not getting the larger promotions and why there seemed to be a general lack of trust among us. No one wanted to consult with another. All of us were very competitive and sabotaging the other’s efforts. In an attempt to be noticed by Executive management (=men), we were setting each other up for failure and being petty. What an eye-opener for me.

As an HR manager, I knew I could personally do something to change this. Using collaboration and not competition as my incentive, I set about asking the other female management their input on ideas and projects. I was immediately met with distrust, criticism and even sarcasm – what, is this job too difficult for you, that you need to ask for help?

Fortunately, not all of my peers were like this. I found a lifelong friend in Christine who was kind and helpful to me. In addition, I had women in my department who were caring and driven to help others. We formed a small but close-knit team. The easy collaboration in HR training began to be evident as we shared leadership roles. There was a desire to help one another and to share our strengths as a team.Other women began to look to this team as an outreach and support within the organization. Several women began to gain promotions and opportunities to excel, including me.

I share all this to make a point. Until women begin to set aside the competitive nature of business and our own prejudices against other women (she’s not career-minded her clothes are not right, etc), we are not going to be looked at as serious contenders for executive level positions. Women do not have to set aside our feminine qualities of being able to talk to one another, to empathize, to nurture relationships in order to get ahead. We don’t have to be so driven that we get a calloused edge that doesn’t take others into account. In a culture that feeds the “me, me, me” ego, climbing the corporate ladder means stepping on other women’s heads in order to see our own star rise.

As a Christian, this is made even more clear to me by Jesus Christ’s teachings, especially when he said “So the last shall be first, and the first last ” Matthew 20:16. That doesn’t leave much room for corporate ambition, does it? What one doesn’t realize right away is the blessing you get from helping others and putting your desires off for a minute or two. Getting promotions was nice (I won’t lie!) but it wasn’t nice to not have a peer to peer network of women you could trust. Getting recognition was nice, but I didn’t realize that it meant that I took it from others and gave no one else credit. When we started sharing and helping one another, we began to celebrate each other’s contributions and victories. Our enthusiasm, relationships and strength multiplied.

Bill Gates said that “As we look ahead to the next century, LEADERS will be those who EMPOWER others.” So what steps can we take today to help those around us? This Forbes article gives a great list of strengths women have that naturally lend themselves to helping others. In addition, I have a few to add that can apply to both men and women:

  1. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Look for opportunities to help fill the gap.

  2. Ask for the worst assignment. Your colleagues will thank you (& think you’re nuts!) and your bosses will appreciate you.

  3. Be willing to help not only at work, but outside work. When you see your co-worker as a mom, wife, daughter, or in a different role, you will gain respect and learn to set aside any prejudice you may have formed against them.

  4. Pray for them and for yourself to be placed in situations where you have to serve others.

We need to build each other up – both men and women. When you break others down, you get torn down right beside them. There is collateral damage. The true hallmark of a leader is when you help to develop others’ skills and strengthen them. Along the way, your own skills will be strengthened, built and sharpened.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17