Opinion: I’m in the Room, Now What? The Challenges of Women in Servant Leadership

By Katrina Long Robinson and Christina Lambert

Thankfully, influence is an aspect of leadership, and when pondering on the word “influence”, women such as Shirley Chisholm, Maya Angelou and Ana Navarro-Cardenas all come to mind.

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” — Rosalynn Carter

Servant leadership sounds something like this:

  • How are you doing?
  • What do you need?
  • How can I help you be successful?

The philosophy seems simple enough. However, let us be honest.  Many times, the pathway to leadership is often driven by self-interests rather than by the interests of those to be served. Furthermore, we as women working and serving in leadership roles have additional considerations.

It is true. The preexisting obstacles we face as women when striving for leadership roles are eroding slowly, albeit too slowly. As I have navigated my own leadership journey, I have witnessed women struggle to leverage their influence. Thankfully, this is an aspect of leadership that has always come naturally to me. While for some women this can be a heavy lift as they endeavor to gain influence, I have found that it can be done when reliability, confidence and assertiveness remain at the forefront. The power of influence offers a way for women to gain allies, share innovative ideas, and earn respect from work colleagues, community leaders and peers. Influence provides the chance to contribute, share expertise and help clear and create paths to leadership. The active pursuit of influence is a lifelong journey that ultimately creates a path for progress.

So, how can we as women utilize our influence to impact those we serve?

I had the opportunity to speak with an influential leader within our community about how she creates impact:

“I take the time to get to know the person’s dreams and goals, make warm and meaningful connections,” said West Palm Beach Commissioner, Christina Lambert. “I offer connections with opportunities, ask for their opinion, provide volunteer opportunities, think strategically to create new pathways, give constructive yet supportive feedback and cheer them on!”

Build Influence Simply by Being There

I had been told time and time again that networking would be an essential part of my career, regardless of profession and demographic. If I wanted to be successful in life, networking would be essential. Simply put, I had to be present.

The only missing advice was, how? In 2016, I was named Vice Mayor of the City of Westlake in Palm Beach County. This advice was once again at the forefront of my mind. As a black woman in the role of a newly elected official, I knew how necessary it would be for me to insert myself into rooms where I would undoubtedly be the only one with a darker hue.

Uncomfortable? Many times, yes.

Necessary? ABSOLUTELY!

But I also understand the value of relationships and how to cultivate them as does Commissioner Lambert.

“It is more than just showing up; it’s remembering the small details, taking notice when they need help and providing help without requiring recognition for it,” said Commissioner Lambert. “I place myself in situations that I may not have previously experienced naturally. I am ALWAYS open for a new adventure. You never know where you are going to meet a new connection, what you are going to learn, or whose life you may influence just by showing up.”

While in the room, we as women must be intentional and strategic about forming working relationships. These efforts often lead to genuine friendships. Solid networking must be done strategically and intentionally. I read some time ago to not limit my networking based on comfortability; getting to know people with similar backgrounds would be a waste of time and energy. I knew networking with people who would get value out of becoming friends with me and I with them would be mutually beneficial.

Getting into the room is one task but being invited to have a seat at the table to continue making an impact is something totally different. So how do we as leaders continue to create meaningful change?

“I genuinely care, fiercely advocate for what I believe in and truly give it 100%,” offers Commissioner Lambert. “I do not believe that change comes easily. It takes constant dedication, determination, strategy and grit. It takes sticking with what others often quit. It takes growing from the uncomfortable situations, so that next time it’s not quite as uncomfortable.”

“Women need a seat at the table, they need an invitation to be seated there, and in some cases, they need to create their own table. We need global, understanding that we cannot implement change effectively without women’s political participation.” — Meghan Markle

Now that I Have a Seat, What’s the Ask?

At this stage in my career, I have been applying and getting accepted into municipal, county and state leadership development organizations.  Leadership organizations which include CEOS, Attorneys, CFOs, educators, and entrepreneurs who would be essential to the longevity of my professional journey and networking experience. I knew having a seat at the table would mean bringing quality conversation, clear assertation for what I advocated for and the opportunity to diversify my circle of friends.

Intentional relationships were now formed, my allies would inquire on ways they could reach Black women and men in hopes and efforts to begin building relationships with people who they may not have met in spaces. Many of these introductions led to board opportunities, speaking engagements, job opportunities and new friendships. My allies would now become champions even when I wasn’t in the room, I begin to see influence offering a way to prevail over diversity challenges. Even collaborating with my female colleagues in politics led to building and bridging gaps. We knew that being influential could happen successfully without taking away the influence of one another.

“I was raised in a blended family where I learned the value of hard work and the importance of family and teamwork. My grandparents, who immigrated to America from Mexico, showed me that service to my country and neighbors was an integral part of belonging to the community,” said Commissioner Lambert. “Today, as Commissioner, I echo the same morality and importance of diversity inclusion within the community. In order to fully understand different cultures, backgrounds and needs, I immerse myself within the community and invite other leaders to join in order to experience, network and create new possibilities. Only until we submerge ourselves into the issues within our communities are, we able to understand with empathy and advocate for the change.”

Be Collaborative, Yet Intentional

As a leader we naturally accumulate a team of allies and experts to call on which is critical, since the relationship between the team and the task is direct and critical. We know that positive action through teamwork creates influence through an established reputation. We also know that purposeful collaboration is a powerful mechanism in getting quality projects completed. However, while serving in various leadership roles I have come to realize how necessary it is to use discretion when committing to a group task. Let’s face it. As alpha women and leaders we want to take charge, but when working collaboratively, the team is as important as the task. I have learned the hard way that I simply cannot nor will not get burnt out on account of an ineffective team. And neither can you.  Surround yourself with those who can propel you forward, and vice versa.  Personal growth for women in leadership is also collaborative growth for women overall.


Katrina Long Robinson is founder of KLR Consultants and the Douglas G. Robinson Pancreatic Cancer and Empowerment Foundation. Katrina currently serves as Vice Mayor for the innovative City of Westlake. She is an advocate of affordable housing, education and changing the sometimes-negative perception of Elected Officials.




Christina Lambert is known as an innovative leader full of energy and new ideas, Christina’s passion for the community can be seen through the work she has done to support local education, children and women’s issues and leadership development programs.  Christina instilled these values into her role as a West Palm Beach City Commissioner as well as in her career as a business executive.


The views expressed in this commentary are their own. 

The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.

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