Is there something wrong with being an assertive female leader in the professional world?
No, of course not.
That’s why, when women are called “bossy” in the workplace, they should think about what it really means—is it really a bad thing?
Is it a warranted criticism of your leadership qualities? Or are you tagged by the term simply because you’re a woman taking charge?
If it’s the latter, there’s certainly no shame in that.
The big stink surrounding “bossy” is that the word is almost exclusively applied to women.
Often working women are dubbed bossy when exemplifying particular leadership skills: Demanding and to-the-point.
Men, on the contrary, are called “assertive” or “powerful” when practicing the same traits.
These terms, while true to the point, are not seen as negatively as “bossy.”
Bossy As a Negative
In addition to being traditionally insulting, “bossy” carries other negative implications, some taking form as early as childhood.
Unfortunately, many women learn as young girls—after having been called bossy—to water down their behaviors.
They mask the strong leader within in order to blend in, in order to avoid being called “the other b-word.”
Women in the workplace, for example, often use softer tones, opting to be polite rather than assertive. They ask questions rather than make demands.
One might say, “Could we please talk for a minute?” rather than, “We need to discuss something.”
Because some women have grown up holding back, their gentle behaviors root themselves in work practices.
Men, at the same time, are much more likely to ask for what they want, make demands, and use a louder voice when addressing someone.
Teaching girls to be quiet, polite and gentle, through denial of their more dominant traits, serves only to lose potential leaders.
Consequently, many female big-timers, including Beyoncé Knowles, Jennifer Garner, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, are speaking out against bossy.
Their campaign, Ban Bossy, which is teaming up with the Girl Scouts, aims to eliminate the word from youth’s vocabulary in order to cultivate more women leaders.
Turning Bossy Around
Not all women lose their grit in childhood, however (as Knowles, Garner, and Sandberg demonstrate for us).
If you’re one of the don’t-back-down types, strong enough to hold onto your inner leader until you’re career-involved, you should not be afraid to use it.
As a demanding woman, you may very well be called bossy at work. Consider it a compliment.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that you should be disrespectful or overly pushy (which could also be called bossy). Such qualities are negative in all leaders, male or female.
If you are unsure of why you’re being called bossy, thinking it may reflect possibly negative leadership traits, don’t be afraid to ask. Bring it up at your next office meeting, if you’re so inclined.
A good habit to follow: Put yourself in your employee’s shoes. Don’t think you’d like to be treated the way you’re treating someone? Shift your ways a bit, keeping respect at the forefront of your leadership tactics.
When it comes to being a female leader, don’t let “the other b-word” stand in your way. If you’re going to sculpt your leadership skills around one word, make it “respect.”
Don’t be afraid to make demands and speak above a whisper. Don’t be afraid to take charge or speak highly of yourself.
The next time you’re called “bossy,” think of Beyoncé’s words in the Ban Bossy campaign: “I’m not bossy. I’m the boss.”
Image credit: iha31