The Jesus-Hearted Woman:
Ten Leadership Qualities for Enduring & Endearing Influence
Wherever you are in your leadership journey, being a Jesus-hearted woman is possible by embracing these ten leadership qualities.
By Jodi Detrick
Women look for ways to use their God-given leadership gifts. But leadership for women comes with a unique set of challenges. Many women who have the potential to be great leaders turn back in discouragement or defeat, leaving others without their influence.
Our broken world needs women who are Jesus-hearted leaders. In this article I present 10 qualities of Jesus-hearted leadership.
A leader from our denomination called me. The woman who had served as Women’s Director for our churches in Washington and northern Idaho, had resigned. Would I consider having them nominate me to fill her position?
The word no immediately popped into my mind. But since it was an honor to be considered, I promised to talk with my husband, Don, and to pray about it. That was my first mistake if I wanted to maintain a comfortable status quo and stay off the path to growing as a Jesus-hearted leader.
With Don and my family cheering me on, and with the encouragement of a few, trusted friends, I accepted.
None of my leadership growth would have happened had I followed my fears and said “No thank you.” When we walk in too-big shoes, despite the difficulties and challenges, our gait gradually changes from an ungainly, self-conscious toddle to a poised, purposeful stride that inspires trust in those who follow.
Insecurity is not humility. Insecurity isme-focused and is more concerned with self-protection. Knowing my inclination toward personal insecurity, I pray: “God, please give me the gracious confidence required to lead.”
Presumption is not confidence. I need to discern whether I have the latent, perhaps underdeveloped but God-given capacity to do the thing I’m considering.
Gracious confidence means I take the gifts God has placed in me and develop them as fully as I can. It means doing my best as I offer those gifts back to God in service to others.
Occasionally I ask, On what am I basing my confidence? I can get in trouble if I base my core confidence on my natural abilities, cleverness, charm, appearance, history of success, titles and positions, academic accomplishments, affiliations with the powerful and privileged, or human acclaim.
I have learned not to underestimate the experiences God has given me along the way. To do so is to throw away the confidence He is building, layer by layer, through the years. Corrie ten Boom said, “Every experience God gives us, every person He puts into our life, is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.”1
I am not a better leader because I have been given bigger responsibilities and a few outstanding opportunities. I am a better leader because I stepped forward into the next thing God called me to.
My husband and I sat in silence at the crowded table. As a young couple that had recently begun life in the pastorate, we were thrilled to be at this conference and to glean from other leaders who had experience and wisdom. It wasn’t long, however, before their dismissive looks and clipped answers told us we were not in their league and should just mutely bask in their glory.
I wrote in my journal: “Note to self: if, by God’s grace, I am ever in a position of leadership or influence where others might want to be in my presence, I will treat everyone the same. I will ask personal questions and be interested in the lives of those within my proximity, knowing that no one is unimportant … that every person is of value and can teach me something.”
Many eyes on us can tempt us to develop a stage presence around friends we want to impress, leaders we want to sway, even strangers we want to outdo.
What, then, does authenticity look like in the life of a Jesus-hearted woman? An authentic Jesus-hearted woman tells the truth about the messy parts of her life. What is the appropriate amount of transparency for any given situation? Here are some guidelines I follow: (1) when I think it will benefit others who are struggling in the same areas; (2) when my vulnerability paves the way for others to relate to a bigger message God wants to speak through me; or (3) when I need help and am pretty certain those who are listening to my muddy side are spiritually healthy people who can handle my struggles with godly care and confidentiality.
Live your life as if there were no secrets, because some day that will be true. And if you have lived a life of secret integrity and authenticity, you will have cause for open celebration for all those hidden moments when your actions revealed a Jesus-heart that beat for God’s glory.
Colossians 2:18 talks about people appearing humble, but it was a false humility. These folks combined legalistic rules with severe, self-imposed bodily discipline to show how humble they were (in a spiritually superior way). Verse 23: “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (emphasis mine).
Being humble is a spiritual posture — an internal bending of the knee, the heart bowing in honor and service, both to God and others.
Don’t let titles trump the task of serving from the heart. Be a servant and then do what a servant does … from your heart. That’s where humility starts.
You are nobetter or worse, above or beneath, anyone else. Jesus said, “all of you are on equal level as brothers and sisters” (Matthew 23:8, NLT2). He also said, “The greatest among you will be your servant” (verse 11).
Humility is huge if you are serious about being a Jesus-hearted leader. Pride can disqualify you from long-term, effective ministry quicker, and more permanently, than just about anything.
I call some people elevator leaders. They want a quick and easy ride to the top. But you build strength to lead well when you get to the top — and the stamina to stay there — by taking the stairs, dealing with incremental levels of leadership.
Some women linger in front of that magic elevator door of prospective leadership, hoping it will open for them. They wait for the perfect position or ideal ministry opportunity. They are frustrated and disappointed when the doors don’t open right away.
With stair leadership, you don’t wait for the doors to open; you open the door yourself and start to climb step by step. Stair leaders start where they are, with what is in front of them.
If the elevator malfunctions, you are stuck. But with stairs, you are only stuck if you choose. As long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you’ll eventually get to the place God wants you to be in your ministry and leadership.
Stairs build stamina. People who use them regularly develop muscles that serve them well on the level they arrive at after their climb.
When it comes to developing as a leader, there are two major staircases — education and experience. Credibility comes from taking the long climb up the steps of academic studies. While educational opportunities, however, may be limited for some, the staircase of experience is available to all. Sometimes when we view a person at certain levels of leadership, we forget the years of unseen and unapplauded struggle in her history. But God doesn’t waste even one thing we go through in a life surrendered to Him.
Some of my most valuable lessons have come through painful experiences. I would have taken an elevator past those learning levels had I been given the choice. But I would have missed developing some of the character qualities that have served me best in leadership and ministry. The things that give us staircase stamina can also help us on our long, sometimes grueling climb as leaders.
In ministry leadership, you may look back at things you or others have done and cringe. Leaders are learners, and learners make mistakes. But great leaders overcome regret with resilience.
My bad has become modern vernacular for “it was my fault,” or “my mistake.” Some regrets become heavy blankets of depression that bury the glow of future ministry potential. But there is no rewind; there is only redemption. A redeemed life is better than a rewind because through it Jesus showcases hope to others who feel their mistakes have left them unqualified for significance and service.
Your last big mistake does not define you. If it was sinful, repent and stop it. If it was stupid, learn from it and figure out how to keep from repeating it.
Some people seem to have it in for us and find ways to create misery in our lives. I call this their bad. And the more active you are in ministry leadership, the more of a spite-target you become. Most people, even when they inadvertently hurt you, have good intentions.
We should strive to resolve conflicts and work to live at peace with everyone as far it depends on us (Romans 12:18). We must be willing to work hard and show patience with the process. But sometimes conflict is beyond us. We cannot fix everyone’s negative opinion of us, but we can use up every last drop of energy trying.
While I may need to have tough skin, I never want to develop a hard heart. I could pretend that the vitriolic comments don’t sting. But, if I acknowledge the hurt and stay tenderhearted, without being moved from what God has called me to do, then I can be a Jesus-hearted women who also happens to be an endearing and effective leader.
God has called us to a life of resilience even when things are too bad. With His strength, and with help from friends and family He will pull us out of the mire and we will soar again.
As Jesus-hearted women, we know we haven’t reached the end where everything will be okay. And until we do, we move forward steadily. Resilience makes that possible.
Courage is a necessary leadership quality. Great leaders take risks, even when the odds are overwhelming and the outcome uncertain.
Some people seem to have a plucky disposition from birth. However, disposition alone cannot account for the bravery displayed by ordinary people. We can nurture and develop courage without fanfare.
Faithful and faith-filled women, past and present, remind us we need courage to deliver the dream, to protect the powerless, to win the war, to hold the holy, and to transport the truth. But the call to gather our nerve and step up doesn’t stop there.
But what do we do with the pinpricks (or gaping holes) of fear that deflate our capacity to live courageously? If those in ministry don’t deal with their personal fears, they will be stunted as leaders — or possibly taken out of the game altogether — no matter how gifted.
God has a message for frightened people. My favorite courage verse is Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” The word dismayed means, “to look around in a panic.”3
God, my God, is with me. He is not only with me, but for me. I follow His mission, and His presence and influence slowly infuses steel into my otherwise cowardly heart and helps me dare things I wouldn’t dream of on my own. And, as our adventure together unfolds, He also chooses the most unexpected times, places, and ways to teach me lessons about overcoming fear.
As followers of Jesus who are leading others, we can spend an inordinate amount of energy trying to safeguard our power or position.
Healthy loyalty toward healthy leadership is good. But some define loyalty as unquestioning compliance and absolute protection from those who might question their motives, methods, or outcomes. They expect their team to act as human shields to ward off any arrows of criticism or perceived opposition. This assures the stunting of self-awareness, which is one of the main components of emotional intelligence4 and so crucial to healthy leadership. Those without this quality will not know who they are or how their leadership affects others. A Jesus-hearted woman in leadership will guard against defensiveness and self-protectionism.
Leaders love to hear compliments. But at times we need a rebuke more than a compliment. And there are moments when a challenge to our ideas and desires benefits everyone if we respond with insightful leadership.
My concern is for ministry leaders who stunt their growth in self-awareness when they hide behind the out-of-context quotation of “touch not God’s anointed” (1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalm 105:15), or when they claim that those who see things differently have a “Jezebel spirit.” Too many people with great leadership potential sabotage themselves and wound others with self-protectionism.
Are you willing to include people on your team who are stronger than you in some areas? Do you encourage them to use their gifts freely, even when it may seem they are showing you up? Who you invite to serve alongside you says much about your security as a person and your degree of self-awareness as a leader. When you filter out everyone who seems risky, you build a wall of protectionism that blocks out valuable input from those who have much to offer.
In the end our own best efforts at self-awareness will still fall short. We must take an even bigger step of vulnerability and ask God to examine our hearts and show us what is there. Using His Word as a mirror for the soul is one way to make that happen.
Paul instructs us to “be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:32). But I am discovering new perspectives about what kindness in leadership looks like. If I am a Jesus-hearted leader, I must practice kindness by omission when I overlook someone’s fault. Not every typo, not every poor choice of words, not every mislocated Scripture reference or slight flaw in biblical application requires our deft hand of correction. There is a time for instructive words to rectify an error or to help others improve, but being endlessly nit-picky is not kind.
We’ve all seen those with a “move over and let a pro show you how it’s really done” attitude that smacks of competition and pride. Sometimes it is kind to shine less for a while so others can shine more.
It’s easy to show kindness to people who think and act like us. When someone comes along with an outside-the-border idea, we may find our capacity for kindness diminished. We need to give others the freedom to lead differently and minister from the perspective of their unique calling, and cheer them on.
Acts of kindness, big and small, help us fulfill the demands of love on any given day. And while our words are significant, it is our actions that make the message of God’s love legible to others.
God calls us to lives of intentional spontaneous kindness. That may sound paradoxical, but when we plan ahead and make provision for kindness and generosity, we are prepared to act in spontaneous obedience to the promptings of God’s Spirit.
Stressed-out, burned-out, worn-out describe too many women who are on their wayout when it comes to leadership. They long for their own green room — a place offstage, that quiet room graciously appointed with deep cushions of privacy, thoughtfully stocked with personalized refreshments for mind, body, and spirit.
If you, too, long for a life with ease, there are three crucial components of soul care to consider: limits, boundaries, and replenishment.
Establishing healthy personal limits is tied to perhaps the most overlooked fruit of the Spirit: self-control. We sometimes live as if we have no limits. We act as if we have an endless supply of energy, emotional capacity, physical and spiritual stamina, and time. But deep inside, we know better.
Learning how to practice portion control is crucial. When I have the Lord as my portion, He teaches me how to apply portion control to the other things on my daily plate. I learn how to divide what is mine from what should go to someone else — what is for today and what should belong to tomorrow. As I listen to His Spirit, He coaches me on what is too much, or not enough, to take on. With His help, I have been learning to say these words: What I have done is enough for now.
God doesn’t ask me to solve everyone’s problems. I must understand my limitations and establish boundaries with those who would drain me. While I give my light freely, I guard my fuel fiercely so I can burn brightly in a grace-deprived world that has lost its shine.
Jesus-hearted women must be replenished. Jesus knew our strength and stamina would dwindle with use. What a refreshing invitation He gives to us who are bone dry and bone weary (John 7:37,38).
No matter where you are on the leadership journey, invest in learning all you can about caring for your spirit (as well as your body, mind, and emotions). It can keep you from ending up with no lamp oil and a flame that fades away to darkness.
As Jesus-hearted leaders, we often need spiritual corrective lenses to read the fine print of how God is at work in the circumstances around us and how we fit into His plan to transform lives. God sometimes conceals, and also reveals, secrets in smallness — if only we have the vision to see.
Some visions in the Old and New Testaments were divine revelations. But Scripture implies another kind of vision that is less about supernatural revelation and more about catching sight of what God might want to do through us.
We catch that vision through the inner desires God places in our hearts, by outer circumstances that stir us, and through our God-given talents, abilities, and interests that beg us to use them as an expression of our faith and love. Usually it’s a combination of all the above. Once a vision captures your heart and stirs your passion, it becomes a rudder that steers the course of your life.
So, what is your vision? In Matthew 6:10, Jesus prayed that the Father’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. With that as the backdrop, consider this: If you could do anything you wanted (no limitations) to make this world a better place for people and more in line with God’s will, what would you do? Make a list of your God-given talents, abilities, and interests. How could you use those gifts to make a difference?
Once you’ve identified a Jesus-hearted vision you can get behind (yours or someone else’s), there are things to keep in mind if you want to see it endure and flourish.
First, the right vision starts and ends with seeing God more clearly. Will achieving this vision help me and others see God more clearly?
Second, don’t let others define or limit your God-given vision. Input from wise spiritual advisors about your vision can be good, but don’t let others define or limit a vision you know is from God.
Third, vision requires feet. God doesn’t give us glimpses of possibilities so we can sit around years later and think what could have been. Vision requires us to act on what we see.
Fourth, Jesus-hearted leaders keep their vision open to course correction. Sometimes God waits to close the door behind us before He opens the door of opportunity in front of us. He knows that if we don’t close the door to the past, we’ll lose the beauty and wonder He’s prepared in the space ahead.
Second Corinthians 4:18 says, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” We are to have the kind of vision that looks for the invisible God underneath, below the surface of life’s more obvious layers. Often, without even realizing it, we’re walking on mystery.
Many times while writing about these 10 qualities so crucial to being an enduring and endearing leader, I’ve discovered something that startled my predictable way of thinking, encouraged the deeper places in my heart, or inspired my sagging hopes.
There were also times when the bigger revelation was just how Jodi-hearted I am, instead of how Jesus-hearted I should be.
Yet, I take heart in this: all these leadership qualities (and infinitely more) are personified in Jesus. Colossians 2:9,10, gives me hope: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.”
As we make more room for Jesus in our lives, He transforms our hearts, develops the qualities we need to serve Him best, and ultimately brings us to fullness. This, too, is a long journey with many twists and turns. But His Spirit is navigating our steps, and He knows just how to get us there.
This article was abridged from The Jesus-Hearted Woman (Springfield, Missouri: Influence Resources, 2013).
1. Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2006), 12.
2. Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
3. Information from Barnes Notes on the Bible http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/cmt/barnes/index.htm, which is part of the Biblos website commentaries: http://bible.cc/isaiah/41–10.htm
4. Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (New York: Bantam, 2006).