As a young woman, watching Leslie Knope aspire to change the world from Pawnee Indiana on Parks and Recreation has been refreshing. With the series drawing to a close this week, it’s a good time to reflect on the impact of Amy Poehler’s notable portrayal of a strong yet very human woman leader. Leslie Knope is smart, passionate and unbelievably determined. But part of the beauty of her character is that she’s not perfect; I can relate to her messy house, her tendency to be controlling, and her major weaknesses for waffles. Her strengths are inspiring and her weaknesses make you think “If she can do it I can do it too.”
Young women need role models. While the tide may be changing, women hold just 4.6 percent of CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies. Having fewer role models sometimes makes it challenging to know what a successful woman leader looks like. Should a strong woman leader look just like a strong male leader? What if you want to spend more time with your kids and not work long hours? Does this make you less able to be a leader? What kind of personality does a strong woman leader have?
Churches can struggle with a similar problem. At the Bay Area Christian Church we believe in having a strong women’s ministry and inspiring women to lead. That’s why we have annual women’s events like Girls Night Out that are led by women and for women, and we also have leadership training programs for high school and college students.
Scriptures have a lot to say about strong women’s leadership, so let’s take a look at some lessons we can from Leslie Knope that are backed up by the Bible:
1. Strong women leaders are known for working hard
She is energetic and strong,
a hard worker.
Are you known for your work ethic? The Bible describes a strong woman as a hard worker, not someone who is lazy and puts off her to-do list. As women we often avoid tasks that seem hard, or make us feel afraid and insecure. Call to mind images of Leslie Knope’s intense binders next time you want to avoid a project; regardless of whether you succeed or not, you earn respect when people can tell you work hard at what you do.
2. They are motivated by passion, not insecurity or attention
Some of these men go into homes and mislead weak-minded women who are burdened with sins and led by all kinds of desires. 7 These women are always studying but are never able to recognize the truth.
2 Timothy 3:6-7 (God’s Word Translation)
In order to be a strong woman, we have to face what makes us weak. Scriptures say that as women we get weak-minded when we are burdened with sin and led by all kinds of desires. I find that I become very weak inside when my driving motivation is to impress people, make people like me, or get attention of any kind.
Consider Leslie Knope’s internal motivation to make Pawnee a better place – she wasn’t trying to prove herself or make everyone like her. She genuinely had a passion for serving her community. Because of her passion, backlash and criticism never stopped her (remember when she tried to make Pawnee healthier by imposing a soda tax?)
Ask yourself what motivates you to lead. Is it insecurity and attention or do you genuinely have a passion for what you are doing? From this scripture, recognizing the truth is the first step to becoming internally stronger women.
3.They learn from other women, instead of competing with them
Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not slander others or be heavy drinkers.Instead, they should teach others what is good. 4 These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, 5 to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes,to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God.
Leslie Knope’s office is full of pictures of women she admires – Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, and Condoleeza Rice. Women need other women in their lives that inspire them and teach them. The Bible teaches the same concept- women need to learn from other women. One of the biggest obstacles to this is jealousy and competitiveness. Think about it- what’s your first response when you see a woman who seems to raise her kids or manage her life better than you?
Strong women aren’t afraid to learn from and respect women around them. Pick a couple women you admire and ask them questions this week in an area you feel like you need help.
4. They embrace their weaknesses
So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
How do you handle weaknesses? Do you boast about them, or try to hide them? Sometimes we think being a strong leader means we will have no weaknesses or emotions. But actually the opposite is true; God works best when we will embrace our weaknesses. Nobody’s perfect, and if you embrace who you are, you can actually have a much greater impact on people around you. This is one of the reasons I love Parks and Rec – Leslie isn’t perfect and that reminds me that my weaknesses have a purpose too.
What weakness in your life do you think God wants you to embrace? Work on sharing those weaknesses with friends today and practice embracing weaknesses instead of hiding them.
5. They don’t let fear control them
She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and she laughs without fear of the future.
In scriptures a strong woman doesn’t live her life in fear. She is able to live her life joyfully and without fear of the future because she trusts God will take care of her. I loved watching Leslie’s campaign for city council because she wasn’t afraid to fail. It’s dangerous what happens in our lives when fear and anxiety control us. We can become afraid to take risks, or easily angry and lonely because we are so afraid of failure.
How do you respond to fear in your life? Do you let it control you or do you fight it? One way to become more courageous is to do a Bible study about anxiety and worry to develop deep convictions about how to handle fear spiritually.
6. They take responsibility
A wise woman builds her home,
but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands.
Strong women take responsibility; they don’t blame others for what is happening in their lives. Think about it- even when treated unfairly Leslie never blamed the people of Pawnee for messing up her life. She decided she would not give up and get angry. We can’t always control what happens to us in life, but we can control our responses. When we choose to respond to hurtful situations with bitterness and blame others, we will become stuck and angry – tearing down our own lives in the process.
What situations in your life make you feel stuck and angry? We all have them – maybe it’s a marriage struggle or the way your boss treats you at work. Maybe it’s something painful that happened to you growing up or a heartbreak in a dating relationship. Whatever it is, take time to think about and pray about how you handle those situations. Do you build your life or tear it down with bitterness? What decisions could you make to start building your life instead of tearing it down?