It seems Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Girls Scouts of the USA CEO Anna Maria Chavez’s campaign to ban the use of the word “bossy” is gaining support. Their valid concern is that schools and communities are discouraging young girls from aspiring to leadership roles. That said, their solution to ban words like “bossy” would be thoroughly ineffective, even if it could be implemented.
While it is true nobody likes a bossy girl, people don’t a bossy boy either. It is also true that stereotypes and traditional social conventions make it easier for us to begrudgingly accept a controlling, domineering male, but leadership is not about telling people what to do. Anyone with enough audacity and/or lack of respect for boundaries can order people around. Being bossy, however, doesn’t mean things will get done or a complete disaster will be averted.
If we closely examine respected and successful leaders, we would see leadership is rooted in one’s vision, realistic expectations, ability to set priorities, ability to understand the strengths/weaknesses of others, and a whole host of other traits. Looking for a common thread, both confidence and thoughtfulness separate leaders from non-leaders. In turn, the difference between a bossy girl, or boy, and a leader is thoughtfulness.
To be thoughtful in a leadership role means to know when to take control of a situation and to know when to give up control. It also means understanding when you are leading people off a cliff or you don’t have the answers. Instead of focusing on not calling girls bossy, we should, therefore, focus on discouraging bossiness in both girls and boys as we cultivate them to act with confidence and thoughtfulness, i.e. train them to be actual leaders.