If you're bossy and you know it...


If you've been unplugged, you may have missed the recent hubbub around Sheryl Sandberg, Beyonce, and the Girl Scouts of America, who started a new campaign to encourage girls to be leaders by banning the word "bossy." From their banbossy website:

"When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don't raise your hand or speak up."

Have you ever met a toddler? Have you ever tried to play school with an elementary-aged girl? Or built a Lego set with a 9-year-old boy?

If you have, you know bossiness exists.

You also know that it isn’t a girl or boy “thing.”  It’s a personality thing.  The stronger the kid’s personality, the more their bossy behavior surfaces.  Bossy is an appropriate adjective.

However, while this group undoubtedly means well, this campaign is off target. These women are being far too aggressive with their efforts to ban a perfectly useful word.

They are being, for lack of a more concise term, bossy.

There.  I said it.

While I support efforts to encourage girls to lead, this “ban-a-word" approach seems silly, sloppy, and more-than-a-little embarrassing.  It makes me wonder if this group of otherwise intelligent women gave this “movement” more than a moment’s thought.

I am suspicious for a number of reasons and over the next few days I'll explain why.  In many ways, this Tina Fey quote conveys my thinking perfectly...

 “It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because you don’t like something, it is empirically not good. I don’t like Chinese food, but I don’t write articles trying to prove it doesn’t exist.” Tina Fey

While I can agree that “bossy” is a negative word, negative doesn’t equal bad.

Other negative, but useful, words include “mean” and “condescending” and “rude.” These words sting as much, if not more than “bossy,” but we don’t try and purge them from our speech.

In fact, words that effectively describe a negative behavior are a staple in my vocabulary.  I don’t throw them around all willy-nilly, but you bet I’m going to tell my daughter when she acts bossy.  I’m also going to tell my son.  If you’re my employee, I’m going to give you that feedback as well.

I hope you’ll do the same for me.

We should WANT to know how others see us.  My goal is for my staff (and my kids) to understand exactly HOW they are coming across to others.

If their self-esteem is healthy enough to ACT bossy, then it’s healthy enough to get some candid feedback. In fact, one of the biggest lessons I hammer on is that self-perception is less important than how others perceive you.

If you want people to respond to you differently, then you need to adjust to how they see you.  If you don’t want to be seen as “mean,” figure out how to behave differently.  If you don’t want someone to call you “bossy,” approach your leadership differently.  The last thing the world needs is to grow a generation of people who aren't tough enough to hear when their style is ineffective.

(For the record, acting bossy IS ineffective, but that is for another post.)

One time I mistakenly doubled the salt in my Chicken Pot Pie, rendering the dish inedible.  I didn’t solve the problem by purging salt from my kitchen, but I did learn that I needed to be more careful in how I measured out the seasoning.

Don’t kill a word just because you’re unhappy it applies to you.  Take the input and adjust your style.