Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Women's Leadership: Mission Strength and Personal Vulnerability Combine

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Women's Leadership: Mission Strength and Personal Vulnerability Combine

Article excerpt

Maya Angelou once said, "You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don't make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can't take their eyes off of you." Certainly a leader is someone who is able to accomplish a great deal by garnering the support of others in pursuit of shared goals.

As the president of a college for women, I think a great deal about the leadership aspirations of young women and how best to support their journey. Each student we admit at the College of Saint Benedict is in pursuit of something.

Each young woman brings with them to college hopes, dreams and goals--and we commit to helping them define, refine and attain those goals. We commit to making them courageous leaders within their work, family and communities. And, as a community of women, we have to be prepared to articulate what is unique about women's leadership.

I posit that there are two often undiscussed keys to women's leadership development, keys that enable women to succeed despite systemic barriers to women's leadership. First, I believe that authentic leadership for women is driven by mission. A mission is the personal ambition that unites the various parts of a leader's life, driving her forward when the journey does not seem to make sense or the direction is unclear.

A personal mission sustains leaders in the face of daunting challenges. It enables a leader to discern and act on opportunities in ways that promote a wholeness in her life. A mission creates a thread across time and place that connects the various aspects of one's life into their leadership development.

Mission-driven leadership is about defining, creating, articulating and following a path to accomplish a goal. A path that leads a woman into a future that she embraces and is crafting for herself. Mission-driven leadership allows a woman to be an authentic leader and to encourage budding leadership all around her. It encourages her to help others name and be true to their missions, to pursue the things they love doing and then do them so well that it impacts the world.

Second, while a focus on mission demands clarity and strength, mission-driven leadership also demands a level of vulnerability. This notion of being a vulnerable leader is often contrary to the standard rhetoric about "good" leadership. There is a pervasive ideology that good leaders are strong and inscrutable, and that the word vulnerability is inherently incompatible with being a good leader. …

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