For the love of Women Who Built It: Episode 01

Leading where you live: knowing your influence with Jo Saxton

It’s new series time, and we’re excited about this 6-part series featuring “Women Who Built It.” This series is filled with women who are slaying in their careers. They’re building amazing spaces in business, ministry, and culture, and they’re here to share with us the triumphs, heartaches and leaps of faith it took to build something important. Our first guest is Jo Saxton, one of Jen’s heroes in the leadership space. She’s an international speaker and an author who has a deep passion for leading women toward their full potential. Jo gives us insight, as women, into our sometimes complicated relationship with ambition and provides context for the current culture where women are acknowledging the unwarranted obstacles that have long been in their paths (and being heard) across all industries. Her ultimate goal is to show women of all kinds (mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, sisters, aunts, friends) their incredible influence on shaping lives.

Transcript from the show

Narrator:  Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people, every week, on this podcast. Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey everybody, it is Jen Hatmaker, welcome to the For The Love Podcast. Super glad to have you here today especially, for this series that is so strong; filled with so many amazing women. We’re in a series called “For the Love of Women Who Built It.” There’s just no shortage of women who are slaying in their careers. They’re building amazing spaces in business, and in ministry, and in culture and they are smart and they are talented. They have so much to teach us. I have a friend on today, who I love and believe in so much.

It’s Jo Saxton, and this is one of the best leaders of leaders that I know. Jo, she’s a leadership trainer, she’s an international speaker, she’s an author, and very, very passionate about seeing women live into their full potential. First of all, Jo is the child of Nigerian immigrants who grew up in the UK. You’re welcome in advance for her beautiful and lovely accent, you’re going to love it. She’s going to talk a little bit about her story and how her childhood has really shaped her adulthood like it does for all of us.

For anybody who’s ever been lucky enough to undergo leadership training with her, she has this amazing system of either helping those who are already leaders or those who are pursuing leadership by empowering them to “lead from the inside out,” is what she calls it. She’s naturally gifted at this. She is smart, and wise, and discerning and she takes this raw material of lives and helps form it into just something absolutely amazing. She’s a speaker everywhere, she’s spoken at a million different things and she’s an author, she’s a podcaster, she chairs a board of the international discipleship organization called 3D Movements, and she’s on the advisory board for Today’s Christian Woman; I mean, Jo’s everywhere, you guys.

She is just a good friend and a loyal friend and an encouraging friend. She’s one of my friends that empowers me and encourages me behind the scenes almost more than anyone I know. Everything she says is the real deal, she is exactly who she claims to be and I love her, and I value her, and I think she is really important to our culture right now.

This is a great conversation, by the way, you guys. There are so many nuggets that you might need to have a pen and paper in hand. The way that she talks about empowerment, and identity, and courage is just so good. You are going to love this conversation. It’s my delight to welcome to the podcast Jo Saxton.

Good morning, dear friend!

Jo: Hi, how are you?

Jen: I’m happy to have you on this podcast, really happy.

Jo: Yay, good times!

Jen: I know, this is just, this is a big season for you. It’s an exciting season, it’s a lot of work that’s kind of culminating right now, and it’s just fun to watch it. Talk about this week a little bit. This one’s going to come out just a hair later, but your book has just released. Tell everybody about this week. We’re going to get into your book in earnest, just what it’s like to release a book these days? It’s bananas, right?

Jo: It’s a little surreal because on the launch day my husband woke up and said, “Happy launch day,” and I’m like, “Okay… “

Jen: I guess I’ll just make some coffee like always.

Jo: I know, the school run is the school run, and then there’s 11 inches of snow that dumps in our neighborhood. It’s a snow day and it’s minimal snow, but we don’t normally have snow days because we’re hard and 11 inches is nothing until that day. The kids are like slightly crazy and everything and I’m like, “Happy launch day to me, yes, this is a wonderful thing, thank you very much, I feel so meaningful.”

Jen: Do you know that if it dumped 11 inches in Texas, a hand to the heavens, we would shut down for the month of January. We just can’t, we cannot deal in any capacity, but that’s true, you’re up in the tundra where, I mean you probably don’t get snow days.

Jo: No, we don’t and our school district almost prides itself. I literally got an email saying that it’s a snow day for cold when it’s like minus 40 or below. They mean business. They mean business.​
Jen: I can’t. I have a picture of you. You sent it to me I think last year, you know the one I’m talking about?

Jo: Yeah, I do.

Jen: You’re so buried in coats and scarves that all I can really see is the center circle of your face. I have it saved, it’s amazing. 
I’m so excited for you, you know I love your book, I’ve read it cover to cover. I just love you and I love your voice, I love the space that you’ve carved out and you’re an encouragement to me in a really unique way, in a special way; not a lot of women in my life occupy the same exact space. I think I said something to that effect when I endorsed your book, which is basically like, I know that you are living the message of this book because you texted me some version of it every single week--”you can do it” and “this is it”--I mean really it is – you are very, very gifted, not just at leadership but at encouragement.

I would love for you just for a minute before we dive into it, just to talk about your passion that you have for affirming not just your friends, I know it’s way broader than that, but all the women you come to. Where does this encouragement bug come from? Where did you learn to be such a good cheerleader?

Jo: First of all, thank you, it’s very kind of you to say. I think a couple of reasons. I think probably the absence of, and sometimes, you’re impacted by what you don’t have. It’s not that I never had it, I think I grew in circumstances that were quite challenging, and quite vulnerable, and I think in that environment, I wasn’t sure if I was okay. Do you know what I mean? I just wasn’t sure if I as a person, as a child, was okay and often felt very disposable. I’m not even saying anybody was to blame for that, I think it was just the perfect storm of family breakdown, foster care, things like that, that left me with the kind of an “am I alright, or what” kind of thing. The vacuum …

Jen: Can you unpack that just a tiny bit?

Jo: Sure, absolutely.

Jen: Tell the listeners a little bit about your background and your story.

​Jo: Yeah. I’m a Nigerian Londoner. My parents in Nigeria moved to England in the 60’s, ​I was born in London and raised in London. My parents’ marriage broke down, like many did, but our circumstances were such that I ended up in foster care as a baby until I was about six years old. I had an amazing, amazing foster mother, wonderful woman, complete outlier, out of the box crazy lady in that she about 70 when she fostered us.
Jen: Wow! I don’t think I remembered that. Wow!

Jo: She was insane and she had basically started fostering since World War II with the evacuees in England during the blitz. I mean, it’s just like we span this crazy amount of history in our family and she just carried on. She just kept on going. My brother and I were probably, we were near the end because I think they were trying to retire her by that point, kind of like “Mary let it go.” She fostered around 100 kids at the time. She was just this wonderful, quirky kind of environment of security in the early years of my childhood and a wonderful, wonderful woman.

Again, for me, it was a really positive experience. I didn’t actually think of it as that much of a big deal but equally there were certain obvious things. We were black kids, everybody else around us was white and so there was racism in the neighborhood and from time to time, it would kind of come our way. There was a kind of legacy of thinking “do I fit” and “am I enough, am I too much,” were questions I started early with. I was struck by, I had some really, really good teachers at school, my English literature teachers who were like my cheerleaders. They would sit me down when I was 12 and say, “you know that you can write, right, you know you could do this.”

They would give me more, expect more of me, challenge me to do more because they saw it. It just was fuel to my fire. I think by the time I got to my 20s, I think I had begun to feel like the transformative impact of encouragement. I’ve always wanted to cheer people on, and affirm. and people would often talk to me about competition. I thought well, before competition happens, I’m going to make friends, that’s how I’m going to do this.
I had a friend of mine who’d said she’d made a decision because she’s had so much pain from people competing with her that she would always make a habit--Suzie Brock, her name is, a wonderful woman--she would always make a habit of encouraging people, and I thought that is just a classy thing. I thought, “Suzie I’m copying you, that is what I’m going to do.”  It had served me ever since in terms of what I do I guess.

Jen: It is exactly how you are, you are precisely like that. I love that principle and I think that’s so much God in you too. It serves dual purpose honestly, not only to us, as the recipients of your encouragement it just feels so nourished, and nurtured, and built up. It’s good for our own hearts, it’s good for our own souls. When we choose collaboration over competition it starts to change us, it really does. I think the fruit of it shows us that there’s enough to go around. We are not living in a world of scarcity when it comes to women leadership for crying out loud. I mean, we need a thousand more women leaders yesterday.

Jo: Oh, my goodness, yeah.

Jen: Speaking of women in leadership, so obviously this series, which I love, we’re talking with women who have built things, who have built amazing spaces and kind of how they got there. That runs the gambit. For some women it was a great idea, like a product based idea. Sometimes it’s just grit and determination, sometimes it’s this sense of spiritual calling paired with a charismatic personality. Just a whole host of things bring women into leadership basis. You have a unique role I think in working with other women too, who have built it, or are just starting to build something or want to build something.
You sincerely help women who feel stuck, who feel like they are not progressing or they don’t know how to get started, or they can’t get over their history or their past mistakes. 
Talk a little bit about how you train women to lead from the inside out--which is what you say--I love your approach, obviously, because in our faith this it is just the path towards transformation, but by basically diving really, really deeply inside to maximize their potential. Can you talk about that a little?
Jo: Yeah. I think again for me, I think it grew out of what I observed, the more I experienced. Then, I realized for me, as I was growing up and various things would hit me in life, they would always knock my confidence, they’d knock my courage. It was only as I became more whole that I was able to lead. As my teachers encouraged me, or mentors encouraged me, things became possible. For the first, in fact, probably until I came to the states, I came to the states at 30. For the first 10 and 15 years of me leading, I actually didn’t lead women at all.

I was mainly working with men for much of time, and that was fine. It really was, but what I found was in those conversations and in those environments where I was speaking, I would often have this line of women at the end, or meet a woman crying in the bathrooms. She would be crying not out of – sometimes out of frustration, sometimes out of pain of thinking “I just know there’s something in me, but there’s no one helping me get it out.” Or “how are you able to do what you do” or “why do you feel confident about doing what you do, and how about people who say you shouldn’t do what you do” and all these sorts of things.

Because I don’t feel especially angsty about it, I just feel I’m getting on with what I’m designed for really. I think it began out of – I think I began to get slightly aggravated in the healthiest possible sense, of just seeing again and again, so many women of again, across the theological spectrum who were passionate, who had dreams, ideas and it could go from their community, to their churches, a business, and they were stuck by something internal. It was never that they didn’t have the skills Jen, it was never that they didn’t have the qualifications. They had way more qualifications than most.

What I’ve observed is, if in their minds they don’t think they can do it, they won’t even try.

Jen: That’s true.

Jo: Also, if they don’t feel it’s going to be perfect, they won’t even try, because they often feel, we often feel that we are representing everybody.

Jen: That is a great point.

Jo: If we make the mistake, who else goes down on account of this? Who else goes down if I don’t work out what it means to lead well, and I can’t make mistakes. That kind of pressure will numb you, that kind of pressure for perfection will mute your voice because it’s too much of a burden.

Jen: It sure will. I really like that point, I think that’s really interesting and obviously painting with a wide brush. If you sort of look at the demographic that’s male dominated, it seems to me that they don’t share our crippling insecurities. They were built and taught from the time they were born that they were going to be leaders, and that they were going to succeed, and they were going to be in charge. If they wobble a little bit, so what, the odds are in their favor. I hear what you’re saying, for women who are still, still - for crying out loud, carving out our spaces and pulling up seats to this table, it’s true.

I have felt that in my life, that if I do not absolutely nail this with excellence, it’s going to be an indictment to women in leadership. It’s going to be an indictment on women in church leadership, specifically. I think you make a really, really fine point, that we’ve kind of got an extra strike against us when we start out. How do you coach people through it? What would you tell that woman who is kind of frozen--absolutely capable, resourced, smart, able--but frozen?

​Jo: There are a number of things. First of all, because the other thing I’ve noticed and when I gather women together is that everybody feels they are the only ones who feel like that, and that it must be a slamming indictment on their weakness and character. The first thing I remind them of is; you look at the world around you--how many times have you seen women doing the things that you’re passionate about? If it’s not often, it’s no wonder you’re questioning if it’s okay. You are left – the guys in our lives can often assume things, because they’ve seen these visual affirmations of it again and again--and rightly so actually--I’m really happy that they have those visual affirmations. I mean it’s wonderful.

Jen: Yes, right and we don’t want to steal from everybody else rather than just raise the bar for us all.

Jo: Absolutely, and raise the level of opportunity for us all. I think what I came down to; I remember reading, Marian Wright Edelman, and she was actually writing about children, and it hit me, in relation to kids, and for women as a whole, where she says, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” If you don’t see it, you wonder if there’s something wrong with you, somethings presumptuous, something arrogant about you for wanting it in some way. I think women have a complicated relationship with ambition anyway.

Jen: Oh my gosh! Can we talk about that for a second? I think that is such an interesting truth and I wonder what you find, because your work is interesting. You work with leaders in all sorts of spectrums: in business, in church, in faith, out of faith--you’re kind of across the board. Do you think that, do you see a disproportionate resistance to ambition in the Christian world for women or do you see that across the board? Christian women are very much sort of taught implicitly and explicitly to be docile and subservient in a lot of ways and I find--I’m an Enneagram 3--when I said that out loud, a bunch of people in my community were like, “oh my gosh, thank you for saying that, I didn’t know that we were allowed to be ambitious in the Christian world.” I would love to hear your opinion on that.
Jo: What I’ve seen in professional spaces in the marketplace as it were, there is a growth – I think there’s just far more awareness or attention paid, I think that would be a better phrase. Attention paid to; what does it look like to elevate women voices and opportunities, mentoring programs, sponsorships schemes, things like that? Sometimes, the women I’m working with in those contexts, I’m helping them just unpack and unravel some of the internal life things that have prevented them from propelling forward and saying, “say yes to that opportunity, say yes to that sponsoring, put your hand up, elevate your voice, elevate your sister’s voice.”

That is in the predominant conversation I have. The more common conversation I have is a sense of “so, what exactly I’m I allowed to do?” What exactly I’m I allowed to be?” If I’m rocking it in the workplace, how do I take all that I am and live it here? I don’t want to put anybody out, I don’t really want to get it wrong, but I don’t know what getting it right looks like. I don’t have any environments to try it out, to test it out. I don’t have any--who are my mentors, who are my leaders, who are the people that show me a bit of a pathway, even to explore and say it’s not for me, I don’t have either?”

 I think that confusion tends to mute ambition anyway, because you don’t know what you want.
Jen: Totally. When you don’t see sort of a clear paver stone for your next step, you’re not exactly sure how to move forward? How do you coach those women specifically in spiritual environments? How do you lead them, because interestingly for you, at least, as a coach, women are coming to you, as you’ve mentioned, across the theological spectrum specifically. When it comes to women in leadership, I’m curious to hear how you encourage those women and lead them.

Jo: It’s a process, and it can be a challenging one, because I think you’re tapping into so many things. The first thing I like to identify with the woman is say, “what do you feel the issues are?” Often people will say “I want to find my voice again,” or “I’ve lost my voice and I don’t – this space says I can’t be this, and this space says I should be this.” Again, across the board it can be a challenging conversation, and I see my role as to say, “I actually believe you have a mind of your own, and I believe you can theologically work this out. What I’m going to do is I’m going to voice back your questions to you and help you process this, not decide this for you.”

The illustration I like to use is of the butterfly in the cocoon. When you want to unwrap the cocoon, it actually weakens the butterfly, and it can’t fly because they need the wrestling process to actually gather their strength to break out. For me, the coaching process is like that. I’m not here to say, “This is what you need to think about, women. This is what you need to think about leadership. This is what you need to think about anything,” because I found in my earlier younger years, when I did that, it backfired. You’re just imposing thoughts on people rather than encouraging their own walk with the Lord.

What I do is, I say okay, what are the key things, and then I ask questions on; what are the gifts that you feel you have? What have you done well that you are proud of in the healthiest sense of the word? I’ll say what are the environments you feel around – what are the environments you see around you? We often identify a number of things. The environment that they’re in; is it an encouraging one, is it a silent one? Because a silent one can accidentally be non-encouraging. Is it an aggressive or a competitive one?

I ask about the opportunities, and I ask what they articulate as well. “Do people know that you want more opportunities,” things like that. Then I ask about some of the life hurts and because some conversations are beyond what I do, I say, “do you need to see a counselor about this?” Sometimes even having that conversation to that point is enough, to say, “that experience you had is important enough for you to go and see someone?

What has this process done to your health emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, that sort of thing. Those things …
Jen: I think that’s so important. I like that line of thinking because I think sometimes when it comes to women with a drive to build something, their focus is so just innately on the thing, on the mechanics of the building, on the end goal, the systems, the process, the structures that we’re going to put in place and ultimately on its success, that we just skip right over that really, really important part about how do we view our own self, our own soul. That’s pretty critical to the way in which we are going to build anything at all. Can you talk about you personally came to basically re-define your view of yourself, and then sort of what effect that has on your leadership?

Jo: Yeah, I mean, it’s been huge and I think there were a number of key chapters in my life, key moments. One was when I was about 18-19 and I had kind of walked away from my faith for a while, because I thought it was getting in the way of my social life, to be frank. I was like, “you know what God, we’re good.” The weird thing is, because I’m a bit flaky, I couldn’t throw God away, I’d seen enough, so I just used to talk to Him about what I was going to do next and say, “just so you know, I’m going to go to the pub, I’ll see you on the other side.” I mean, it was ridiculous.

I realized, I remember meeting someone and hearing somebody ask the question, “why are you the way you are and how have you become this” and it just cut me to the core. I knew, at that point in my life, ​everything I was fronting, everything I was presenting were the manifestations of various wounds. They were my reactions to racism. They were my reactions to broken family. They were my reaction to being --I grew up in a poor environment--and my reactions to how I was perceived. I just thought, “I want to be free, to be myself,” and my first response was try and react to everybody else’s stereotype.

​I don’t want to be a reaction to your stereotypes, I want to be me, I want to be whole. I don’t want to survive, I want to be whole. ​The first part of the journey for me was me talking through with a mentor about, almost just like, I had a full case and I just had to unpack it all and say, “this happened, this happened, this made me feel like this, this made me feel like that,” and it was just like breathing out. That was a seminal moment for me. I think another chapter in my 20s would be in relation to leadership and realizing I’d find myself being given opportunities by my pastor at the time.

He was great, he was really, really good. He would literally step out of the way of things that would give him opportunities and say, “oh, Jo’s going to do it today.” That decision, that alone has affected massively how I lead and why I lead the way I do, because I think that’s what it takes sometimes. Yes, you need the talk, meet sponsors, people who will literally get out of the way for you and leverage their opportunity, their privilege, their stuff for you. I remember wrestling with it, because I would find myself daring to believe I was gifted at things, and then scared of the implications of that gift. My main one at that time, I remember him offering me a promotion at one point at work and I said, “You do realize you’ve just wrecked my love life don’t you? You do realize that?”

I said, “Who is going to want to marry me now?”  I’m just going to be like too strong or too this or too this and the other. I think, again, it was just a manifestation of my insecurities at the time. Can I be fully myself, can I bring all that I desire and all that I’ve been desiring to bear and be okay?  I think, Jen, I got to a point where I thought, “I’ve got to try.” ​We have the gift of one life and God has healed so many things in my life, He has redeemed so many broken pieces and I’m so grateful, I’m so grateful for what he’s given me, I’m so grateful. When I look at my life I really would say I was rescued, I was rescued.

I wasn’t just rescued just to sit there. I wasn’t just to sit there and look pretty, I was there for a purpose and free people, free people. I just wanted to give it a go and say, “you know what, Lord, I’m going to go off, I’m going to lead to the fullest extent I know how and I’m going to make masses of mistakes, I’m going to get this wrong, Lord, but on the other side let’s see what this looks like.”  It was just like chains breaking off me because I was finally not reacting to anybody else.

We can love each other, we can celebrate the good things people are doing and not feel threatened by it. ​I guess for me, when I look at the world around us and the broken pieces of the world around us, there are bigger fish to fry, there are other things to do. I think that has helped me massively over the years in terms of I recognize though, that character is always more important than gifting. Those are the things that devour us, wherever we are on our faith journey. There are those who you see in popular culture right now; people who’ve been very talented, who’ve harassed women, who’ve violated women, and actually their lives are ashes now, their talents are ash now.

Jen: I want to talk about that, I want to pick up that thread. We’re seeing-- it’s just an interesting time right now. Women are being heard in new and incredibly powerful ways and they’re saying “this won’t be tolerated anymore. We refuse to accept harassment and abuse and exploitation as part of our career path. In order for us to keep our jobs or succeed in our jobs, even, that we are going to have to endure this sort of treatment and this is just part and parcel of the deal.” Just to have this whole me-too movement, standing up and saying “time’s up,” really, and equally as important “church too,” the” church too” movement that’s coming alongside of this.

I’d like to hear your take on this. What have you seen in your years of leading leaders, both men and women, in this particular conversation, and what do you think this sort of recent movement of how women are being heard--and not just how they’re being heard--what we’re seeing right now is some justice. We’re seeing consequences of that kind of behavior, not just to smear your name a little bit, or you’re in a headline and we’ll all forget about it tomorrow when we go see your movie again. We really are seeing some justice rolled down. What’s your observation of this time of women standing up, being heard, and getting justice in this space?
Jo: I do feel we’re in something of a moment. I think from the marches through to #metoo, I feel we’re in something of a moment. I feel that moment has been rumbling. I mean as you and I know, that me too, before there was a hashtag, Tarana Burke was saying it for years. It’s like these things are coming to the surface and it makes me excited and nervous. Excited because it’s time. Well, it’s not time, it’s overdue. It’s overdue. I mean, I watched some of the statements from the young women from the Olympics team and it was just – I mean I can’t even begin to think. Knowing, that these are the ones we know about, these are the stories we know about.
Women in different industries, in multiple industries, acknowledging their journey. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s wonderful to hear, and that it’s public. The thing that I’m nervous about is; will we do the dismantling of the infrastructures to actually make lasting change to empower women to be who they were designed to be..

That’s what I want it to be. 
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Jo: ​I saw a fantastic, I don’t know if you saw this interview with Octavia Spencer? I was talking about her and Jessica Chastain.
Jen: I just saw that yesterday.

Jo: I mean, phenomenonal, and basically where she talks about, I mean this is a woman who has already won an Oscar and has been nominated multiple times, and who was basically sharing with her sister, her friend and sister, what she earned and then kept together rearranging things and leveraging opportunities and privileges. Basically, Jessica Chastain was saying, “I’m not doing this unless we do this right.”

Jen: That’s right, because she exposed a pretty big pay gap.

Jo: Yeah, five times as much. Staggering.

Jo: So, there’s this pay gap between men and women, then there’s a pay gap between white women and women of color, which is worse. These are all structural and systemic, and that’s exactly your point. It’s going to take more than impassioned public words to tear down those systems.

Jo: Absolutely.

​Jen: In some cases, I think it will be women taking the reins. Like in the case of Jessica and Octavia, where they said “we’re going to have our own production company, we’re going to come up with our own shots, we’re going to refuse to leave the table until we have what we want,” and that’s exactly what happened. In some cases, it is absolutely going to require the partnership of good men who are also just as committed to see this inequality broken down. It’s going to be hard work.

Jo: Absolutely. This is not easy, this is long work, it’s hard work, it’s secret work, it’s silent work, it’s hidden work, it’s not glamorous work and it’s daily work. It will cause us all to ask ourselves, ​“Are we going to be willing to step aside for our own opportunities if it means it’s leveraging a group of others?”

​Jen: Oh man, that is when the rubber meets the road.

Jo: That’s what I loved about Octavia Spencer saying--she talked the talk and she walked the walk when she was referring to Jessica. That’s what it will require of us. If we’re uncomfortable with that, then we’ll have to reckon with that. I hope it’s a reckoning for us all, what do we turn a blind eye to, what messages? We both have daughters. What messages have we given our daughters about who they can be and what’s acceptable and how their bodies are treated? How do we encourage them? I’m really into my kids being polite, I’m really into it. I’m a Nigerian, we respect our elders, it’s what we do. I’m a Brit, politeness is our kind of our other language.

Jen: Yes, you have no other path.

​Jo: You know what I mean, there is no other path. Equally in the mix of it, I’ve had to say, “Jo just make sure in the midst of this, that you’re not silencing these children,” and that we are actually equipping them to advocate for themselves and to advocate for their bodies, to advocate for their ethnicity, to challenge things which are unjust. They shouldn’t feel ashamed of doing that, that they shouldn’t feel bad about doing that.

​Jen: I appreciate that perspective a lot. I actually believe politeness as an enemy right now to advocacy and to big systemic changes, specifically in the community of women, specifically in the community of Christian women, because politeness is chief. It is valued so highly to be non-aggressive, non-assertive, non-confrontational, just to keep everybody’s feelings in check, and there’s a place for that. I mean I’m not advocating for anarchy, but I do think that that priority silences where our gut, where our souls are telling us to speak up and to speak out but we are too afraid to hurt anybody’s feelings. 
Jo: Often that’s huge and I think that’s huge because we’ve forgotten. We’ve forgotten that anger is actually a secondary emotion, it’s about fear or pain. In that moment, when someone is angry, we’re often like “oh, you need to simmer down.” We might want to be asking, “what hurt you” or “what are you afraid of?” Those may be the questions we actually need to ask.  

I remember being in a similar situation. This was about a year ago when I was really upset, I was angry about, something in relation to race. Someone had said, in some of the working environments I was in, and one of my friends said to me, he goes, “would it help if you said it to them in a way where you weren’t as angry?”

I said “no, it wouldn’t help at all. I want them to know I’m angry because I’ve done the polite thing for years and this is happening.

Why are we protecting how someone hears it when my kid on a bus isn’t protected? My friend heard me and he said, “You know what, he said, “that’s a really good point actually.” He turned around completely, he was brilliant. He said, “No actually,” he said, “basically what you said,” he goes, “I wonder if in the name of being polite we’ve actually nullified and muted the significance of things that are actually happening?”

Jen: I really appreciate that so much. I completely agree and I think what I would love our listeners to be prepared for -- which they probably already are -- but there are areas right now in our culture that I’m so passionate about and they upset me so deeply. I think they affect our neighbors and they affect the marginalized, the poor disproportionately, and I’m just worried about it and upset about it. When I sort of, when I speak out publicly, I’m always hoping to do it with dignity and with discernment, but it’s also with feeling and sometimes anger. A lot of the response that I get, specifically from my Christian tribe, is that I’m spreading hate. I hear that all the time. “Stop spreading hate.”

I’m like, no, no, this isn’t hate at all, but I think in a world that prioritizes politeness and sort of unanimity over confrontation than anything at all that is, that challenges a status quo, is perceived as hate. That’s how far away we are, from dialogue and from being able to hear one another. We have a lot of work to do.

Jo:  Totally, and I think you’re right. The sad thing about that is we forget how challenging, some of the most challenging words in the Bible really are right out of Jesus’ mouth. Some of the most stark – I mean, I read the Gospels and I look and I’m thinking “oh man, did you say that again? 
I did Greek and Hebrew in college. I’m hoping I could have kind of translated that in another way but you really were talking that blunt. I think we’ve got to see and redeem the value of positive confrontation. We’ve got to see and redeem the value of those difficult conversations rather than this kind of Gospel of comfort and convenience, in place of our language and that.

The people that we love, I think of some of my most precious relationships, and we can say difficult things to one another and we can say “Hey, we don’t agree on this but we’re here.” We’ve got to get back to that, because again, this muted version of “Let’s not rock the boat,” isn’t actually seeing that transformation with all of us collectively on board. That’s the thing with our brothers and sisters who avoid confrontations, they want to see things go well, they want to see the happiest face, a happier place. What we’re saying is, this is part of the journey there. To take it back to what we’ve been saying about women and leading and stuff, we need to have some of these challenging conversations of “Do you underpay women, do you underpay women of color?”

Whatever you theologically believe, are you living up to that in practice. I have, Jen, in some places where my brothers in Christ--to talk of our Christian tribe--who would say that they believe women can do certain positions, have done more for women in other spaces, who say women can do what they want. It’s like okay then, help me understand what that is, help me understand what that means.

Jen: I really like how you call that positive confrontation, and of course the opposite of that is obviously what MLK called “Negative Peace,” which is no peace, it’s just a preservation of the dominant feeling of the majority. I think the distinction you make so eloquently is that positive confrontation doesn’t mean; I think people hear the word “positive” and they think it all just feels docile and very sweet and very subtle. That’s not necessarily true, because positive confrontation can come with righteous anger, it can come with emotions, it comes with serious backing of feelings. I would love to see us get better at that, I would love to see us not just cower in the face of emotion, but rather lean in.

Like the question you asked, what’s the underlying issue here, what’s real and what’s true and ultimately how can we be faithful to what we say we believe? I think these are the questions that can turn the tide. I don’t know how you are right now, but I’m looking at our culture and it just, I don’t know. In my adult life, I’ve never felt it like this, these tremors with just polarized community right now, and so incredibly angry and willing to just write people off and burn the whole thing down. I think these things that you and I are talking about, I think this is our way back.

If enough of us can figure out how to prioritize meaningful dialogue again, positive confrontation, and look at the cold hard facts of what is truly a whole and a peaceful society and how we get there, I think that might be our only chance. I don’t know, what’s your thought on how things feel right now?

Jo: I mean I would say the same that you would say in terms of the tremors and sometimes I wonder how we find our way back. Do you know what I mean, how we find our way back?

Jen: Yes.

Jo: Even as we’re talking it challenges me again to think I’m I prepared to hear somebody else’s anger and to hear the feeling …​The pain in their voice and have I not listened? Where have I not listened? Where have I not heard? Where have I not sought to understand? I think that’s just a common conversation I have to keep on coming to, even if I land in a different space. Am I prepared to do that? Again, I think us being willing to carve those spaces means that we also need to be willing for the sacrifice that means. The sacrifice of time, the sacrifice of pride, the sacrifice that change brings, we’ll have to be ready for all those things as well. I think as well, I think sometimes the reason why we want to kind of neatly wrap a bow is because these things just keep on going

I think the challenge of these things taking long hard work, not because we’re lazy, just because it’s tough. We sometimes don’t have the emotional stamina for some of that sometimes in the midst of everything else.

Jen: That’s a great point. I like how you said it earlier. ​This work does not have a lot of pizazz. It’s slow, it’s long, a lot of it is quiet, it’s silent, it’s private, it’s just--what would be lovely is a magic bullet to just sort of inject into the national dialogue and just fix it. We’re way beyond that. At this point it’s going to be one million small quiet conversations across the aisle to start kind of finding our way back to each other, I think. I love your wisdom in that. Another thing you encourage women on and I really like this, I bang this drum a lot, too.

​Really, no matter what stage of life they’re in, no matter where they’re at, here they’ve been, it’s never too late for new beginning. People say this a lot, you and I both say this too, but how would you speak into the life of a woman who is listening today and thinking, “oh man, I’ve already – I’ve spent so many years on this or I’ve wasted”--some of them are think they’re wasted-- but I think no years are wasted, “but I’ve wasted these years, or I don’t think I have the energy to reboot. Or if anybody will even allow me permission,” because sometimes when we’ve been a certain way or in a certain role for so long, it’s other people that struggle to let us move forward and change. How would you speak to her today?

Jo: I would speak to her, first of all I would reassure her and say – I would affirm again, I would look her in the eye, the best I could and say, ​“It’s not too late and you do get a new beginning.” ​I tell the stories of different women around the world, different women in the Bible who did things, and tried things, and embarked on different journeys and adventures, and say “You get to do that too.” I’d remind them the life we have is a gift, it is a gift and I’d ask the question; if there was a chance that you could begin to turn something around would you want it? Would you want to turn it around? Because if you wanted it, then I would ask if you’re ready to take the next step.

We don’t know all the steps, but what’s the next step and I would say, ​“Who have you got for the journey?”  I think sometimes one of the reasons we feel it’s impossible is because we feel like we have to do it alone. We feel like well, I haven’t got the skills. You’re right, you don’t, but your sisterhood might, your friends might, your wider family might, the people around you might, and that’s actually a healthy way to live.  ​To come to people and say “look, I’m trying to take some steps, but I can’t do this by myself. I’m unable to do this. This is my first step; would you call me in a week and see how I’m going on my first step?”

Jen: That’s good.

​Jo: I sometimes think when we’re talking about transformation, we see a marathon before us and just think “oh my gosh, I can’t make the marathon,” when actually, I think the thing I prefer to see us as is when my kid took her first two steps, I remember she was frustrated at me. I think she was trying to get a bottle or something, and she took two steps towards me and then fell down. When a baby learns how to walk celebrate the two steps, you don’t sit there thinking “Oh my gosh, you’ll never run a marathon,” you celebrate the two steps. I would encourage, I’d say, “Let’s celebrate your two steps, let’s celebrate the step that you want to change. Celebration number one.”

“Let’s celebrate the stuff you’ve talked to a friend about it, celebration number two.” Because it’s going to be hard enough without any encouragement to give you courage for the journey.

Jen: That’s just good leadership. I’m thinking about the woman listening to this today, because you’re a never-ending well of wisdom, it’s just so deep.
I think there are probably women thinking, “Where is all this housed?” First of all, a ton of this stuff we’ve talked about today is in your book, The Dream of You. By the way, The Dream of You, the title, I love it, the cover, I’m in love.

Jo: I love the cover, I wish I did design it, I’m really grateful to Kelly, she’s amazing. I mean my God.

Jen: It’s dreamy, it’s so dreamy and the content is so rich and it’s so powerful. Obviously, you’re an author. Is this your third book?
Jo: You know what, I totally forgot, it’s my fourth.

Jen: It’s your fourth book, that’s right. I don’t know either. I honestly don’t know. I said the wrong number for years. You lead in a lot of capacities, you are obviously an author, you travel and speak all the time. You work with an incredible non-profit disciple initiative which I love which I have been connected to, too. Can you talk about 3D and what that space is and how long you’ve been there and what your capacity is?

Jo: Yes. I chair the board of 3D Movements and 3D Movements is an organization which basically explores how we put the Bible back in the hands of everyday people. What I often say to pastors is; it’s the kind of thing you went back into ministry for, because you wanted to empower people to play their part in changing the world. I actually don’t have much hands-on work with it now, chairing the board and stuff, but there are hubs in basically different parts of the country. We gather church teams again, from multiple denominations, doing different sorts of things and its wonderful because of the things that accidentally happen as well.

​The accidental thing is you have these maybe ten teams in a room who begin in these different churches: big, small size, Bible vocational pastors, church planters, all kinds of things. After two years together, because they meet every six months. There’s actually, you realize there’s different denominations, they’ve been hanging out and they become friends and served each other, supported one another, praying for each other, listening to one another, learning from one another,; all because they’ve been going through this journey together. That’s been a privilege to be a part of and a privilege to see it happen

I think the thing I love most is I love people, seeing people’s lives change. I just love it and I really do believe in Jesus. I really do believe He turns your life around.

Jen: I do too.

​Jo: When you meet Him, you’re not the same. You’re just not the same. Again, that’s not that it’s easy and it’s not just this kind of distant belief system, but that He actually changes lives, and I think that kind of good news you’ve got to share. I just feel you’ve got to, even if they say you’re a nutcase. Even if they say, “I’m really not interested in what you’re talking about,” I’m like, “at least I told you friend, at least I told you,” then I’m at peace. You know what I mean?

​Jen: Totally.

Jo: On that front. The other leadership space to me is, the main thing I’m working on now is what I call the Ezer Collective which is again the vehicle initiative developing women who lead. Basically, I say it is to inspire, invest and ignite women who lead.
​Jen: I love it. That is women in any capacity of leadership?

Jo: Yeah. The last gathering, we had, and I remember I was texting you about it and sending you pictures. We had women, some who were in seminary and some who were business leaders, some who were homeschooling mamas, again, women in their 20s, 30s,40s, 50s, 60s, and grandmothers who were getting women out of human trafficking, we had Latina sisters, African American Sisters, African Sisters, Asian American Sisters, European American Sisters, just all across the board. The thing is ​when you get women in a space and tell them it’s okay to be themselves, and they start networking and giving them room to breathe together, giving them room to brainstorm together, to speak into each other’s lives, challenge each other, it’s off the chain what happens.
Jen: It sure is.

Jo: It’s just amazing the things that get done.

Jen: That motivates me so much. Every word you just said is the gospel truth. You get women in the room, empowered, free, liberated, and I mean, it’s magic. It’s just magic what happens in that space, and you foster that so well. You’re very, very uniquely gifted in that. In that not only are you such a good leader of leaders, but you’re especially gifted at leading different kinds of leaders and in different kinds of spaces. Now, that’s, I find that more rare. Normally people are a little bit niche-oriented, and yet you can translate all these best practices into three dozen different environments, and it’s just so good. It’s so good for the health of our community of women. In addition to all this, you’re also podcasting.

Jo: Yes.
Jen: Tell us about your podcast.​

Jo: I host a podcast with a friend of mine, Steph O’Brien and it’s called Lead Stories, Tales of Leadership in Life. The heart behind it was, me and Steph are always putting the world to right when we see each other, and we’re just chatting about all kinds of stuff. Someone said you should start podcasting, and we’re like, that’s a good idea actually. 
Part of it was, we wanted to demystify some of the things around leadership and again some of it is still the heartbeat of how do you – for the women we know and it’s not only targeted at women but women are always on my mind. It’s basically for the leaders that we know, how do we resource them if they can’t afford to go to a conference? If  they can’t be at an event?

How do we get to where people are, and podcasts are just the vehicle for us saying, “Hey we want to introduce you to some people who are doing some amazing things in the world, we want to inspire you, and we know that some people are really kind of put off by the word “leadership” because it comes with so much baggage. We try and demystify, and the language we use is being intentional with your influence. Everybody’s got some form of influence. Mothers, you have incredible influence, grandmothers, god mothers, sisters, aunts, friends, you have incredible influence. What does it look like? We shape lives.  The therapist’s office will tell us and that we all have influence because someone is on the couch because of us, one way or another.

Jen: Right, totally.

Jo: We’re wanting to invest and empower people to be intentional with their influence and rather than feeling like “I’ve got this job and I don’t know how to use it for the common good” or “there’s nothing feeding my soul, as I’m trying to feed somebody else’s soul.” I want to bring a glimpse of heaven into this every day, ordinary working space, or into my neighborhood and community, and our conversations revolve around that. It’s been so much fun to do and to know that.

Jen: Podcasting is fun, isn’t it?

By the way, everybody listening, on the transcript or over my website, which is jenhatmaker.com we will have all of this linked. Everything, every podcast, every book, every space, every website. If you heard something you’re interested in today, we’ll have literally all of it at your fingertips. 
Alright, we’re going to wrap up here with three quick questions that we’re asking all of our guests in the Women Who Built It Series. This can just be like rapid fire, like what comes to mind.

Here’s the first one, who in your life and it could be like in real life or it could be remotely through books and podcasts and remote leadership, whatever, it doesn’t matter, makes you a better leader? Who do you listen to? Who do you follow?

Jo: I listen to a lot of people. I think breadth is good.

Jen: Yeah, I do too.

Jo: I think breadth, so I couldn’t think of one. I listen to a lot of podcasts and I actually listen to the How I Built This podcast,  that has probably been really inspiring to me. It’s often people I meet, it’s often, yeah, I think the people …

Jen: In real life people.

​Jo: Yeah. Honestly, I would say this, my siblings actually would probably be. I mean they are, I have two older brothers and an older sister and we meet every so often. One lives in Hong Kong and then I live here in the US, and the other two live in the UK. They are just amazing people. Some of them are people of faith, some of them aren’t, but they are strong, and I know our journey as a family. They are strong, they are bright, they are sharp, they keep going. Every time I’m with them, I come away better. I just come away more secure in who I am. They are like people who know you differently, but they just inspire me. They just inspire me so much, so I would say my siblings.

Jen: What a nice thing to say. I wish I knew your siblings.

Jo: You’d love them actually. You’d have so much fun.

Jen: I know that I would. I mean, I follow you whenever you’re traveling, and you’re with them and I’m just jealous. I just want to be there with your family, like yukking up like I can tell you are.

Let me ask you, this is the next question; as somebody in leadership, do you consider yourself a good follower, and in what ways yes and in what ways no?

Jo: I’m very loyal, so yes. I actually love serving other people’s visions, actually, and saying “What can I do to help you thrive?” To that end I love it, and I’m willing to kind of, if you need me to shut-up about this or whatever, I’ll stop talking about that because I just love seeing other people’s dreams come to life. When I see that happen, I go to bed happy. I’m like “Lord, this is a good day,” kind of thing. I love that and pouring all my resources into that. I think one of the things that make me not a great follower is I’m intense.

Jen: Yeah, I don’t know what you mean, I’m not like that at all.

Jo: If we talk Enneagram, I’m an eight which is total. Sometimes people don’t want the degree of loyalty I’m willing to give. Like you know what Jo, let it go, we’re good.

Jen: I want everybody listening to know that you’re saying is true, that you really do, you really do – number one you’re so loyal and you do get fired up behind people’s dreams. You do – this is what I said at the top of the show; that’s literally the kind of friend you’ve been to me since the first day I met you. Always paying attention, and in my corner, and giving me just the right bit of fuel in the moment that I needed. By the way as a fellow, I’m a three, so I’m up there too in intensity, I’m here for it, never stop. You cannot “out-Jo” me, there’s never too much Jo.

Last one, last question, we ask everyone this on every show, it’s a Barbara Brown Taylor. Do you read Barbara?

Jo: I haven’t, but I’m inspired. I feel I should. I feel like I’m missing out actually.

Jen: You know what?  She’s good for people like you and I, because we are so demonstrative and we’re so out there with our personalities and she’s so introspective and so contemplative, that it’s good for our personalities. This is her question, what is saving your life right now?

Jo: This might seem strange. Car pool. Car pool is saving my life.

Jen: Please tell me more.

Jo: I know, I know. I have two girls, one 5th grader and one 7th grader, and I do carpool for various sports and they are just hilarious. They are just so – I adore my kid’s friends. I adore them. They are so much fun and they are like, the games they come up with, the lines, and they are all really polite, and so they call me Mrs. Saxton, which I find hilarious because Jo is just Jo. Anyway, it’s like they’re like “Mrs. Saxton tell me about this today,” or whatever. If you listen to a number of their cellphones and you go to voicemail, it will either be me or my husband’s voice because they ask us, because they like the accent, so they ask us to do their voicemails.

I just adore them, they’re such good girls, they’re so vibrant and fun, so different, I adore them. I actually really look forward to carpooling and there’s one -  they’re just gutsy crazy kids, they’re brilliant, I love them.

Jen: That’s probably my favorite answer I’ve ever gotten to that question, I love it. I know exactly what you mean. I treasure the moments. I’ve got a kid, and all their friends in the car, I just sit up there quiet and just listen, and I just die, I just die, they’re so bonkers. I just love it, just love it.

Okay. Tell everybody real quick as we wrap, where can they find you, where are you, how do they follow you, all of it.
Jo: Well, first of all I would love to catch up with you all. On the socials like Instagram and Twitter I’m @Josaxton, just @Josaxton My website is Josaxton.com and all the things we talked about you’ll find links to there. Then Lead Stories podcast you’ll find it wherever you do your podcasting.

Jen: Okay. Sis, I love you …

Jo: Love you too girl.

Jen: You’re just one of my favorite people. Your leadership and your friendship to me is so important and it matters. It’s just one of those really true, pure relationships that I just hang on too with both hands. Thank you for being who you are,. Thank you for being a true friend to me and thank you for being on the podcast today. This has been an amazing conversation.

Jo: Thank you. It’s been fun to be with you as always. 
Jen: Well, that is the wonderful and the talented, the phenomenal Jo Saxton. Literally, you guys, as I was having that conversation with her, I don’t know if you could hear it on the microphone but I had a pen and paper, and I was just scribbling notes, things that she was saying that were moving me and encouraging me and challenging me and making me think about my own leadership. She is just a phenomenal, phenomenal human being and leader of leaders. Again, I mentioned it, everything we talked about, all of Jo’s contact information and her resources and her books and her podcast, I’m going to link all of that over at jenhatmaker.com, and you’ll be able to follow her on her socials.

She’s also hilarious. I mean, we were actually diving deep into some more serious and sober information, but she is so funny and so fun and so wild which is why we get along so well. We’ve got lots more to come in the “Women Who Build It” series and some women that I just respect and admire so much that even if only five of you listen to this podcast, it’s just a joy to me, I get to have an hour-long conversation with women of this caliber. Thank you for listening, thanks you guys for subscribing, that’s great for podcasts. If you haven’t already, jump over to iTunes and subscribe or wherever you get your podcast. Also, thanks for reviewing and rating it, another great asset for the successful podcast.

Just so you know, we listen to everything. We read all of your reviews. We are constantly wanting to improve and deliver to you the best content, the guests you want to hear, the content you’re hungry for. We really appreciate when you take the time to do all that, and we’re paying attention.

Guys, thanks for being here today, thanks for listening in to my conversation with Jo, and look forward to joining you next week. You guys have a great one.
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!

From the show:


Jo's Books

Quotes from this Episode