There has been a lot of talk about bossy women lately. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is leading a formidable group of successful women, including Condoleezza Rice and Girl Scouts CEO Anna Marie Chávez, on the banning of that word to describe women.
Their purpose is admirable. We sometimes use the term “bossy woman” when a female takes on a leadership role traditionally held by men. I’ve heard of other women leaders, such as Hillary Clinton described by another B-word that probably means about the same thing.
What if she actually is a bossy woman?
I agree that just because a woman is in a leadership role, that’s no reason to call them bossy. But what if she is actually just bossy?
The underlying message these successful women are communicating is that men can get away with being bossy and escape the label. People just do what the men say. That indicates to me that people give credibility to bossy men while they hold bossy women in disdain.
That’s unfortunate. But the problem with that is that both men and women should strive to be leaders, not bossy.
Bossy is not leadership
Bossy is management not leadership. Managers push and manipulate – and boss – people. Leaders establish a vision and pull a group of people in a common direction.
Bossy is weakness. Leadership is strength.
Bossy in insecure (aka arrogant). Leadership is confidence.
Bossy is authoritarian. Leadership is collaborative.
Bossy people try too hard to gain credibility while leaders naturally earn it.
Credibility and respect – call it followership – cannot be demanded. It must be commanded. “You will call me Mr. Sauder and you will respect me, damnit!” just doesn’t work.
It’s hard for me to believe that Ms. Sandberg, Ms. Rice, or Ms. Chávez got to where they are by being bossy. Aggressive? Most likely. Leaders? Absolutely. I can’t imagine they attained their respectable statuses by simply bossing people around without being excellent leaders.
After reading Ms. Sandburg’s book “Lean In”, I know that she’s not advocating women to be bossy, she wants them to be leaders. (Full disclosure: I did not read her book, I listened to it on Audible)
It would be very unfortunate if young female future leaders got the message that it’s okay for them to be bossy; that people just need to quit giving them the label.
Young female future leaders (not to mention young male future leaders) need to learn that leadership, which is very different from bossy, is a much better way to earn respect and get things accomplished.
I’m sure that Sandberg, Rice, and Chávez all know that. I just hope their campaign doesn’t send the wrong message.
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Because it’s not alright for women or men to be bossy.