She stood by the dark wood fireplace, holding a small black clicker and gesturing from the podium at the screen behind her. The black letters on the slide stood out: Women in Leadership National Survey.
I was sitting between Northwestern's Associate Vice President of Human Resources and the Director of Career Development with the Dean of Student Engagement nearby. About fifteen representatives from four other colleges filled this Massachusetts room where we'd gathered for a few days of presentations, discussions and collaboration around one topic: Women in Leadership, specifically within the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).
As a woman and Northwestern's student body vice president, I was exhilarated by discussions of student organizations, employee networks, intuitional values, male sponsorship of women leaders, and challenges to systematic social change. I love ideas, and this place was full of them.
Here are some ideas that have stuck with me the most.
I saw a picture of what it means to be a woman in leadership: a woman who sees a need and takes action. Hearing of research into women's roles within higher education across the nation, I was encouraged: be futuristic. Set goals. Think creatively. Act strategically.
If we set big picture goals to support women in leadership, we can start achieving them one step at a time. If we are willing to dream big and outside of the norm in ways to connect with other leaders and encourage new growth, we can think in innovative, creative ways. If we are willing to acknowledge roadblocks along the way, we can take strategic action toward our dreams.
Systematic social change does not happen overnight. I was reminded that to achieve big dreams, we need to start small.
What this "small start" looks like is different for each woman in leadership. For us at Northwestern, even if we are dreaming big of staff, faculty and administrative networks and women in leadership mentorship, we can start somewhere today.
One of these first steps is our newly formed "Women in Leadership" student club, we are starting small, looking internally at each of our gifts, capacities, and spheres of influences to join together and be a collective strength.
Even as we dream big of connecting to other women's student clubs across different campuses, we start somewhere, start here, start now just as I saw modeled through the conference experience. Truly, leadership beautifully complex privilege to carry, and it is beautiful when we learn to carry it together.
Lift Others Up
Ultimately, I was struck hardest by one reality: leadership is not about us. It's not about how talented you are. It's not about how great your organization can be. It's about serving others.
Our leadership is most powerful when it's most outward focused. We need to call each other out on their leadership potential. We need to be intentional about modeling leadership for other women, often those younger than us. We can impact each other through purposeful mentoring. We can serve with our time, our words, and our actions.
And why do we serve others, anyway? It's about counting all else as loss for the sake of knowing Christ, about fearing him, and living in surrender. And this type of surrender? It's a service for others as we commit to work at all we do with all our hearts, remembering that we lead for the Lord and not for others. This is how we lead. This is the perspective we have that propels us forward. We must simply be faithful with what the Lord has given us and where he has placed us, big dreams, small steps and all.