You may have heard of the latest campaign by the self-proclaimed heroes of modern women to Ban Bossy. Their motivation, I assume, is to take away the notion that bossy is bad because leaders are bossy.
I think this campaign is misdirected. I won’t ban bossy in my home. I think bossy is a very descriptive word which serves a great purpose in forming female leaders.
To me, bossy and leader aren’t synonymous and we shouldn’t
teach our girls that they are. Bossy girls (and women) think they are leaders but what they really are is agenda pushers. They don’t play well with others. Whether on the playground or the boardroom, bossy girls are singularly focused on their ideas and will promote their mission to the detriment of anyone in their way. Bossy girls don’t listen and above all they aren’t kind. These are not the marks of a great female leader and teaching our girls not to act this way isn’t a threat to them being leaders themselves. Our girls should know the difference between bossy and leader. They are not the same and we shouldnt strive to make them so.
In high school, I had an unfortunate incident with some girlfriends. My group of girls was out one night without me and the conversation somehow turned to me and why everyone was angry with me.
I found out about the incident because I had one friend brave enough to tell me about it. After the initial shock, then anger, then sadness faded, I looked at the event as an opportunity to learn.
You see, some of what the girls had to say was valid. It turns out I had hurt some feelings of people I really cared about because my style was too sarcastic when sarcasm didn’t work. I was communicating something to these girls that I would never have approved of if I had realized it. Ultimately, I didn’t listen enough or take into consideration the personalities of those I was surrounded by before I let my big personality into a room with them.
I’ve taken that incident with me everywhere since I was seventeen. Sometimes, that means an initial distrust of new girlfriends. That’s the bad part. But the better part, and the one that I am so grateful for, is a lesson in leadership. When those girls sat around a diner table late-night discussing all the ways they thought I had done them wrong, they taught me something invaluable: there is growth to be found in criticism.
I learned that night that in order to be the person I wanted to be, one who could lead without people feeling hurt or defeated at my hand, I had to look outside myself to ensure I really knew the people I was dealing with before making a move, saying a thing or deciding a direction.
Let me be clear, I do not cower to the whims of others and I am very certain about who I am and what I have to offer. My sense of self is not for sale or trade.
What I have learned to do is balance a natural inclination to lead and speak out with the desire to make other people feel good. I want to be in the front, but not if it means walking on top of others. I listen and synthesize and try very hard to make everyone know their voice is heard.
In short, I am a boss who tries not to be bossy.
My daughter is a leader. She has no fear of speaking her mind and her confidence transcends even the most powerful tween angst when it comes to leading a group or cause. She is an advocate and champion and she is very sure those are both good things. As a result of this confidence and yearn to lead, she encounters her own diner-table full of girlfriend critics from time to time.
When she comes to me for advice I ask her first about her own behavior. I do not do it in a way that assumes she has done anything wrong. In fact, these conversations often end with me pointing out all that she has done right. The reason I ask her to reflect is because, while girls (and boys) can be mean in their criticism, the points they raise usually don’t come out of nowhere.
So I tell my girl to do what I do in times of self-doubt: examine and, if necessary, adapt. If there is any modicum of truth what the naysayers are saying, then it is up to she (and I) to change our tactics.
If we examine and find the naysayers are just that, then we can rest easy in our confidence that we are doing the job well in support, not to the detriment, of others.
I want my girl to lead, but not if it means she has to lose the beautiful nurturing self that makes her the incredible young woman she is. I don’t think nurture and lead must live separate lives.
Bossy is a bad thing. Instead of trying to change the definition of the word, why don’t we focus on teaching our girls what about it is bad and then be sure they know what it really means to be a woman who leads.
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