On Being Boss(y)

Head’s up: Sheryl Sandberg is at it with a catchy phrase-driven marketing campaign again. Now that we’ve all “leaned in,” apparently, the next step in Sheryl’s playbook is to “ban bossy.” Basically, the core principle in this joint Lean In/Girl Scouts project is that when girls are assertive or leaders they’re deemed “bossy,” and Ban Bossy wants to stop people from inhibiting girls’ leadership proclivities by calling them bossy.
I like this, in theory.

Bossy doesn't have to mean asshole- on #banbossy // via LInz Loves You.
Bossy doesn’t have to mean asshole- on #banbossy // via LInz Loves You.

The thing that’s rubbed me the wrong way, though, is that generally girls being called “bossy” aren’t necessarily acting like a boss. As a business owner, I have plenty of “boss” hats that I wear on a regular basis– creative director, designer, negotiator, lawyer, accountant, therapist– and all of these have me taking on some form of leadership role or at the very least being self-sufficient and independent. Those? Are good “bossy” roles. Sometimes, I need to tell a client what’s best for their brand, or make scary decisions for my business. Often, I have to tell a developer how things should look, or get on the phone with the cable company to find out why the hell my internet is so slow. I have to be assertive and strong.

And that, I think, is where people go wrong. Bossy doesn’t necessarily have to be BAD. But I do think that in plenty of cases, when little girls (and let’s be honest, boys too) are called bossy, they’re really just being assholes. Yup, I said it. Being called bossy? Might really mean that you’re running over people, stepping on people’s toes, lacking tact, and basically acting like a dictator. Dictatorship isn’t leadership– and that’s what often comes to mind when you hear the term bossy. If anything, I think the meaning of bossy should be reframed. Instead of calling girls bossy when they’re being bratty and taking charge in a crappy way, why don’t we look at it as an opportunity to teach them how to actually manage and work with others? Being a boss, boss-like, or “bossy”, requires tact, diplomacy, and good communication skills. Those are the things that I often see are missing when someone is called “bossy.”

Do women absolutely get shit for being in leadership roles? You bet. We’re called shrews, cold, bitches, or worse, if we’re assertive (particularly around less than confident men). The glass ceiling hasn’t gone away just because Sandberg has called on us all to “lean in.” Maybe instead of the “ban bossy” campaign, we’d be better served to look at those situations and reframe them for those calling women who are being leaders in an effective way these terms. They’re doing it because they feel emasculated, insignificant, jealous, or insecure– and that’s really the core of the crappy treatment of women in leadership roles. Maybe instead of stopping calling kids out for shitty behavior (let’s face it, that’s what it is), we help to turn that behavior into positives and then encourage boys of that age to recognize and support the girls who DO find themselves being natural leaders? I mean sure, that requires some actual work, but there’s something to be said for that.

Just my 2 cents (and then some) on being boss(y). What do you think? Is bossy always a bad thing? Or are we really just using the word wrong? And do we start with kids or is there a much bigger picture out there?

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0 thoughts on “On Being Boss(y)”

  1. Kara-Anne Cheng

    I think you said it – we’re all about being assertive and being a leader. That’s not bossy. You can CERTAINLY be a bossy leader, but that doesn’t mean you HAVE to. It’s a fine balance between firm and being genuinely kind. Lack one or the other and you’ll either get trampled all over or be called cold and demanding.

    I’m all about the new generation of leaders – those with heart and equal capability. Those who genuinely care about the people around them, yet able to see an edge, and bring people forward when everyone is busy being a sheep.

    Great post that made me think! Thanks Lindsay!

  2. great post, Lindsay!
    i’m all for banning offensive words, but i think this one isn’t quite right. the gender bias needs some fixing, for sure, but eliminating the word bossy from our vocabulary isn’t going to do that at all. encouraging girls to shine, lead + make decisions from their gut is a better use of our efforts.

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