Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, and a bunch of other important people, are on a mission to ban the word “bossy.” They argue that the word is too often used as a negative label describing girls with natural leadership qualities.
Really? I thought I was using it to describe someone, male or female, who is kind of a rude jerk.
Before I rant about all that is wrong with this campaign, let me just state for the record that the campaign makes many points with which I actually agree. I am all for children, boys and girls, using their words to speak up and be heard. I am in favor of kids learning how to lead and assert themselves in positive ways. In a world where the voices of many of these young ones are ignored, even stifled, we need to empower kids to speak up. We need more leaders and fewer followers. So those are the positive elements I see in this campaign.
And now for the negative…
First of all, banning a word from our vocabulary is never the answer to a problem. In fact, it’s just lazy. Has it ever worked? With all due respect, get a better name for your campaign. And despite Ms. Sandberg’s distaste for the word, being called “bossy” as a child apparently did not hold her back, and it certainly hasn’t hurt her career. So she is actually a terrible example for her own campaign. Call a little girl “bossy” and she just may grow up to be a billionaire and the chief operating officer of one of the most valuable companies in the world!
The problem at the very core of this campaign is how different people define leadership. For me, bossiness and leadership are two completely different things.
A pet peeve of mine is people excusing bad behavior with a “oh it’s just how I’m wired” mentality. It happens all the time. Parents do it with their children. We do this with ourselves. Bad behavior under the guise of “leadership,” or whatever positive spin you want to give it, does not give you a pass to act like a crazy person or treat others like a doormat.
In the words of my smart, kind, no-nonsense, wonderfully assertive friend, Elaine, the Ban Bossy campaign is “trying to change the meaning of a word instead of trying to change the bad behavior of the people who get called ‘bossy.'”
Bossiness is leading without any thought or compassion for others. Kristen Howerton, over at Rage Against the Minivan, wrote a fantastic blog post about this very campaign. She says, “Bossiness = assertiveness that is lacking any boundaries or empathy.” She also agrees that instead of banning bossy we should “affirm assertive,” and that is exactly the point I am trying to make here.
This campaign has obviously struck a nerve with me. It has frustrated me since its debut in March earlier this year. You see, I have been that kid. No, not the bossy one. The one that was bossed, and it’s something I even struggle with to this day. Now that I think about it, being called bossy has never been a problem for me. In fact, the bossy kids always wanted me to be their BFF, because I sat on the more passive-side of the spectrum, going along with their crazy schemes, too afraid to speak up or voice my own opinion for fear of being rejected. I often found myself the target of incredibly bossy, and sometimes even manipulative, “friends.” Maybe it’s because of my people-pleasing tendencies and a need to feel accepted. Whatever the reason, I know what it feels like to be bossed around.
And, to put it plainly…it sucks.
Also, I have an entirely different scenario at work in my current household.
I have three girls…and one lone boy in the midst of them. He’s child #3. He’s surrounded. Out-numbered. My husband and I stay vigilant about making sure he gets a turn to speak and voice his opinion and that he isn’t mother henned constantly. Also, he is small in size. So much so that he and his 18-month younger sister often get mistaken for twins. He’s 7 and 1/2, she just turned 6. The clothes that fit him best are a size 5. He hangs out with a LOT of girls, and he’s totally comfortable with that; but because he has older sisters, he in turn hangs around a lot of older, much bigger kids who ALSO tend to tell him what to do and how to do it.
In other words, we pretty much try to monitor that he isn’t being bossed around 24/7.
Now, we know it will not always be like this for him. He won’t always be little. But in the meantime, we encourage him to speak up, voice his opinion, walk away from situations and even playmates with whom he does not feel completely comfortable, who are trying to “lead” him when he doesn’t want to be led.
So, to the parents who might be tempted to encourage or embrace bossiness in their children, please stop and think for a moment. Do you have any idea how stressful and anxiety-inducing it is for a non-bossy kid to hang out with a bossy one? Because I do. While some of us are teaching our kids how to stand up to bullies, I am truly concerned that this whole Ban Bossy campaign may be creating them.
It’s not okay for anyone to be bossy. It doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl.
I sometimes see parents praising children for being bossy, because they think they are exhibiting natural leadership skills. I believe this comes from a place of fear in the parent; if they teach or encourage their kids to boss others around, then life will go easier for them. Better to be the boss than the one being bossed, right? Dog eat dog. Survival of the fittest.
As a Christ follower, I see a better way that has been offered to us.
As I stated earlier, the problem lies in the way people define leadership. If by leadership, you mean getting other people to do what you want them to do, no matter what the cost, I call that tyranny. Hitler led that way. So did Stalin. And Mussolini. And Pinochet. And Idi Amin. Not great examples if you are looking at history.
But in Christ, I see another example in history. One that totally changed the world. One who has billions of followers, not because He was bossy but because He led by serving and dying for others, with gentleness, meekness, kindness, and humility.
I am trying to teach my kids to be more like Jesus, who was kind of the opposite of bossy, wouldn’t you agree?
I love the way Philippians 2:3-8 sums Him up.
“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”
When I use the word “bossy,” it doesn’t automatically come attached with a picture of a female in my mind. It’s not a word I use solely to describe girls. I use it to describe someone, anyone, who is trying to lord over another person, with off-putting, entitled, tyrannical, and pushy tactics, especially when they have absolutely no authority or place to do so, regardless of whether they are male or female.
Let me say it again: Bossiness is NOT leadership. If it is any kind of leadership at all, it is bad leadership. Very bad leadership. In my mind, bossy and bully are synonymous. And I want my children being neither.
I don’t care how it is glossed up, or what celebrity is being paid to say it, bossiness is NOT cool. Even if Beyonce says it is. I think we need far fewer bosses in this world and more servant leaders. So I will not be joining the campaign to #banbossy. But I will indeed #affirmassertive and I will teach my children, my daughters and my son, that the best way to “lead” is by serving them first.