Bossiness Is Not a Leadership Trait, No Matter What Sheryl Sandberg Says

If we want little girls to grow up into leaders, let's stop praising bossy behavior.

"I want every little girl who someone says 'they're bossy' to be told instead, 'you have leadership skills,'" said Sheryl Sandberg. The COO of Facebook says she was told this, and look at her now! This quote keeps showing up on my Facebook feed, and while I love my friends, this quote is driving me nuts.

Bossy is not leadership. In fact, bossy is the opposite of leadership. Being bossy is a skill that every 2-year- old has mastered. Bossy is "shut up and do it my way; I know best!" Leadership is the opposite.

Bossy girls are sometimes queen bees--with their little minions following after them. This mimics leadership, but it's not. Queen bees attain their positions of power by tearing other girls down, by instilling fear, and by being the prettiest, or the one with the best clothes. These girls are masters of manipulation and persuade the adults that they are just that--leaders. But anyone who has ever been a victim of one of these "bossy" little girls knows that it isn't leadership.

What's more, bossy women like to keep other women down.

So what is leadership?

  • Leadership is inclusive, not exclusive. Bossy thrives on keeping people out of the inner circle.
  • Leadership listens. Bossy says "listen to me."
  • Leadership hands out praise to others for success. Bossy takes all the credit when things go well.
  • Leadership takes responsibility for failure. Bossy blames others for failure. It is never a bossy person's "fault."
  • Leadership lifts others up. Bossy wants to keep others down, because otherwise someone might take over the top role.
  • Leadership prepares for a future when there is a new leader. Bossy wants to ensure there is never a new leader.
  • Leadership makes sacrifices for the good of the team. Bossy wants the team to sacrifice for her.
  • Leadership is humble. Bossy is prideful.

Now, what I hope Sandberg meant is that when adults see bossy characteristics in little girls, that they work with the girls to channel their natural talents toward leadership and away from being bossy. And not that they pat these girls on the head and say, "keep doing what you're doing, honey!" Because bossy is not leadership. Period.

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