March 16, 2014 by falcon7204
By now you’ve probably heard about Sheryl Sandberg’s mission to ban the word “bossy” when discussing female leadership attributes. Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, and she thinks that calling little girls “bossy” is demeaning and tends to diminish their leadership skills.
Reason.com has an article on this (located here) but the article isn’t as interesting as the comments below it. Many of the commenters hit the nail on the head when they say “bossy” doesn’t only apply to females, but to anyone who tries to tell someone else what to do without any credibility. One of the other commenters put it thusly (and I’m paraphrasing): A boy will tell someone “that doesn’t go there” when another boy is assembling a car, while a girl would tell someone “you’re not doing it right.”
And that brings up a point, not only about the word “bossy” but about leadership and parenting as well. Many times as parents we tend to tell our kids, “Don’t be bad,” or “You’re a bad kid,” instead of saying, “What you did was wrong,” or “That was a mistake.” We tend to want to criticize the person rather than the action. And parents are supposedly taught that kids can be corrected without damaging their self-esteem by pointing out the behavior rather than the person.
I think that applies to leadership, too. In the other example above, the boy who says, “That doesn’t go there,” is not impugning the other kid’s assembly skills, while the girl is. And you could just as easily reverse the genders, because ridicule and put-downs are not exclusive by sex. Leaders point out the flaws in behavior or technique, or demonstrate the proper procedure. Bossy people put people down.
I’d be more in favor of banning the behavior than the word, but that’d be bossy. Instead, if we all led by example, there’d be no need for the word, would there, Sheryl?