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Why I won't ban bossy

Payback...that's what I'm living with right now.  My parents are laughing aloud at the antics they see my children (both boy and girl) pull off nearly every day.  My 4-year-old daughter wakes up and declares that she is going to be the mother today.  She dictates to me that I'm going the wrong direction when we're driving home for lunch and she wants to go out to eat.  She yells at me that I did not listen and obey her so now I can't eat any chocolate chip cookies.  My 2-year-old boy takes the initiative to scrub the toilets with my bath towels and, upon finding him and telling him to stop, he declares "No, Mommy! I do it myself."  When I ask that he pick up his toys, he says, "No, you do it."   Yes, payback...that's what I'm living with.  At ages 2 and 4, I was this same level of bossy.

This year, the Ban Bossy movement seems to be sweeping the nation as it attempts to ban the word bossy from descriptions targeting girls as they assert themselves and show their innate leadership skills.  I commend the undertaking of building up women and girls in leadership positions.  I encourage women to seek out leadership opportunities and building up the self-esteem of other women who surround them. As both a woman who has held numerous for profit and nonprofit leadership roles, as well as a mother attempting to build future leaders (both male and female), there is no doubt in my mind that women need to fill more leadership roles.  However, banning the term bossy will not accomplish this.  In fact, I believe it will make things worse because, in doing so, it continues to separate male and female leadership and encourages behaviors which do not befit a true leader. 

As I have researched the meaning of the term bossy, I found it to mean "inclined to domineer or dictatorial" (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bossy), "fond of giving orders; domineering" (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/bossy), and "given to ordering people about; overly authoritative; domineering" (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/bossy).  There is nothing inherently feminine about this definition.  In fact, until the Ban Bossy movement started, I never thought of this as a trait specific to females.  I have always used this term to describe any tendency of a person - male or female -  to overstep their boundaries in authority.  So, the greater problem should not be banning a specific term, but teaching each other how to discern between inappropriate and appropriate behaviors that are often seen in people of leadership or management positions.  The founders of the Ban Bossy movement are correct that bossy is not a trait I want described to my daughter or fellow women.  However, it is also not a trait that I want a leader to possess.  And, it is a trait in which men should also be educated on so that they, too, do not become dominating and dictatorial.  A leader who is domineering, overly authoritative or dictatorial is not a leader under which I would want to be.  This type of leader is not going to seek out the best interests of those around them to complete a mission that is greater than themselves. 

In my leadership roles, I am continually astonished at the audacity that some people have in assuming that showing leadership is the same thing as having authority or being in a management position.  They are being bossy.  What these colleagues fail to understand is that leadership is not telling people what to do, controlling systems or dictating processes; however, these can be outcomes of leadership.  Leadership empowers and encourages people.  Leadership motivates people and challenges them to continually seek improvement and innovation.  If there is not effective leadership at the helm of a corporation, government, agency, organization, family, or any other form of group, then outcomes diminish, impacts and ROIs not seen, and potential is unfulfilled.

A true leader will understand that they do not know everything nor can they do everything themselves.  They will ensure that they have built around them a collaborative environment in which everyone works together to complete the greater mission, whether it be manufacturing a brand of products, increasing sales, governing a region or nation, overseeing a corporation, or eradicating disease or social problems.  A true leader will never be bossy because they will recognize that, in doing so, they will be lowering the self esteem of those who they dominate and not encouraging others to step into leadership opportunities.  A true leader will not be bossy.


In my role as a mother to both a girl and boy, I continually seek to teach them not to be bossy.  I teach them that, right now, they are in a position of subordination to me, as their mother, and their father.  They are also in this same position to the law and their teachers.  Some day in the future, they will be in this position to their employment managers.  While I encourage my children to use their innate leadership skills of assertiveness and confidence, I also encourage them to understand empathy and how to work as a team (skills which, at least in my children, are much more taught than caught).  I want my children to demonstrate their intelligence - both intellectual and emotional - not shout it from the mountaintops.  They should always recognize that there are subject areas and skills in which they will not excel and in which they will need to seek out help.  This does not make them weak, but better strengthens the team in which they work.  I am teaching my children to demonstrate their leadership potential not through their actions, but their motivations.  This way, when they have achieved a position of authority, they will not have to build followers, but will already have them.

One of the ways that I seek to change my children's motivations is through teaching them how not to be bossy - by teaching them that they cannot put themselves into a position of authority which they have not earned.  In doing this, they are being disrespectful to the people who have rightfully earned this role.  I tell my children that they are not the boss; they do not dominate people.  However, this doesn't mean that they cannot demonstrate leadership in a role of subordination.  In fact, I feel that true leaders are in every position.  Not everyone can be head of a nation or a corporation.  Not everyone wants to have their name posted as the manager or coordinator.  A leader has influence, whether or not they have a title that projects authority.  To positively influence - or lead - a person must recognize their personal role.  A simple mail deliverer in a company has the potential to be a stronger leader than the CEO if they have the capacity to influence more people and; therefore, have more followers.

Let's teach our children - both male and female - that being bossy is not something we want to be.  Let's teach them the difference between being bossy and being a leader.  We want to positively influence those around us so that they will willfully follow us.  We want to surround ourselves with fellow leaders who will work together for the larger purpose or mission.  We want to understand our own limitations and fill these voids with the support of our fellow leaders.  We want our leadership to be recognized not through the title that we have but through the demonstration of what we are accomplishing. 


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