In reference to Sheryl Sandberg’s campaign to “Ban Bossy” I find myself on the fence about the characteristic of bossiness. In an effort to do a little research, I first googled the definition of bossy which states “bossiness is given to ordering people about; overly authoritative;domineering.” (dictionary.reference.com). Synonyms of bossy include overbearing, controlling, commanding, iron-handed and strict. Another definition declared “bossy” as a familiar name for a cow!!
Then I googled “bossy characters” from TV, movies, etc. Of course, “bossy female characters” popped up first, notably Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada), Sigourney Weaver (Working Girl…I found Melanie Griffiths’ character Tess McGill, to be a bit bossy as well) and Princess Leia (Star Wars). While these characters tend to represent bossiness on a continuum, these women were in positions of leadership and power. If these were male characters, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. There are male and female bosses who are leaders and male and female bosses who are bossy.
I vaguely remember being bossy in grade school in the 1960s. I was also a good student and a good athlete. I was all these things because I had red hair and needed to prove I wasn’t weird. Being first born and the oldest and only sister of two younger brothers, you bet I was bossy. As a Baby Boomer, I am really not offended by the word “bossy” and when my daughters exhibited bossy behavior as children, I did not discourage it, nor did I worry that their being classified as bossy was going to ruin them as potential leaders. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me. Both my 20-something daughters exhibit strong leadership characteristics and my oldest daughter, now an aerospace engineer in Silicon Valley, was a very bossy child. She was arguably the smartest child on the street and bossed the other kids around. They seemed to let her and the neighborhood was rather peaceful. When I read this to my husband, he said, “Those kids needed someone to be in charge.” While the negative connotations of bossiness may prevent young girls and women from embracing and exploring their natural leadership tendencies, “bossiness” is in the eye of the beholder.
Maybe we don’t need to “Ban Bossy” and shield girls from this word, but encourage them to understand their temperaments and work with their innate characteristics which can help them recognize all the possibilities and definitions of leadership.