The “Bossy” Debate

In Motherhood, Parenting by Jen15 Comments


There has been a lot of chatter recently concerning using the word “bossy” when describing a young girl’s behavior. The specific quote being talked about comes from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg,“I want every little girl who’s told she’s bossy to be told instead that she has leadership skills.”

I am a mother to three girls and have spent numerous years mentoring girls in both church and secular environments and I have thought long and hard about this quote and the overall discussion surrounding it. I feel Sheryl’s message definitely has merit, but that it really needs follow- up.

Eradicating the word bossy from our lexicon doesn’t mean that we will instantly foster a society with an amazing amount of girl leaders. This just isn’t possible with that type of effort. Furthermore, I have seen young girls order or “boss” other girls around with the intent to hurt and ridicule. This kind of beahvior is not one that should ever be heralded or excused.

My 6th grader recently came upon a situation where she saw one girl telling another girl that, “She was ugly and had no friends and no one could ever want to be her friend because she just wasn’t that popular.” Other girls stood around and watched this exchange too afraid to counter the verbal assault thinking they would become the next target and be left friendless. My daughter, who is quiet and shy stepped forward and firmly said that what she had just heard was wrong and mean and that perhaps the offender would like to hear her faults be told to the entire playground. My daughter opened the way for others to follow suit and they began supporting the girl who had been verbally harangued. My daughter didn’t boss anyone, but her strong and kind nature, even in something as small as saying what everybody was feeling, epitomized true leadership.

Did my daughter get this way by luck? No she did not. For years she has had a strong circle of supportive adults showing her true leadership skills and what it means and takes to be a good leader. Yes, adults of the world, I am saying THE BUCK STOPS HERE. We  can teach the leaders of tomorrow through our behavior today.  They will model their leadership skills off of what they see from us.  Let’s make sure that they actually see the best from us.

My point is that bossiness and leadership are not the same thing and we would do well not to confuse the two. Especially in our day and age where bullies have become all too prevalent. Some bossiness can be downright mean and completely unacceptable.

Every women and young girl should display leadership in some aspect of her life, but it is not always up to us to determine in which way her leadership skills will manifest themselves.  I suspect, however, that the end result will make us proud.

Stay Happy! Stay Informed!



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  1. Such a timely post! I have been thinking about this a lot recently too, since I am guilty of referring to my daughter as bossy. I say this with pride, since I consider it to be a positive attribute (for the most part). But I certainly don't want to damage her psyche. I agree with you that ultimately "bossy" and "leader" are not the same thing.

  2. Thanks Carolyn. Your daughter has a very good mom and I think she will become the kind of "leader " that we need more of today. Kudos for you my friend :)

  3. I applaud the points you make here. I think this highlights a widely accepted cultural practice of sending the message that to be successful, one must use force and call it leadership. I struggle with my guy who can be bossy and not always nicely. He has social skill deficits and it has been tricky to help him build these skills, learn empathy and still retain the strength to (I hope) stand up for others as well as himself.

  4. That is always tricky isn't? We want our children to be able to be independent and strong enough to handle what life throws their way, but not in a steam roller sort of way. I am not sure I have all of the answers, but I have been amazed at those within my own family who I feared had the most tendency to bulldoze behave in ways that have amazed and astounded me. Thanks for visiting.

  5. I still find a different set of rules between girls and boys. I'll be glad when that goes away too, but you are spot on with your assessment here.

    Have a fabulous day. :)

  6. Well said! All the chatter about eliminating the term “bossy” had me rolling my eyes. As a bossy and proud female with four sisters, I don’t share Ms. Sandberg’s sentiment toward the word. Quite frankly, I don’t believe “bossy” has the power to hold young girls back from becoming leaders. The power of leadership comes from within and cant be taken away by repeated labeling. I think Sandberg isn’t seeing the bigger picture, being that leaders are homegrown and learn more about their strength and the value of their opinion from their parents. I think any term used to belittle or size up a child (regardless of gender) is worth reevaluating. And though I can appreciate Sandberg’s rambles about the very few women in charge of large companies and the 77 cents women make to a man’s dollar, getting women into positions of power requires women/girls/children/whoever to learn that some stupid phrase/label/word/term/whatever doesn’t take their power away. This is a case wherein the sticks and stones law applies perfectly. Sorry Sandberg but you gotta toughen up.

  7. Agree – some of the bossy girls I grew up with were really bullies. The same goes for boys – a bully is a bully. I think we need to distinguish the two. I do like the idea of promoting and encouraging girls to be leaders.

  8. Absolutely! From my own experience while growing up and now watching my children I can spot the bullies from miles away. The girls are often subtle, but oh so dangerous and definitely not the type of behavior worthy of promoting. Real leaders know this and that is why bossy and leadership are not even remotely the same thing. Thanks for stopping in.

  9. So impressed with the way you've raised your daughter! This is a fantastic post, definitely worth thought. It's interesting how words can mean such different things to different people. I don't think what your daughter did was in the realm of bossiness at all — she just did the RIGHT thing. I also don't equate bossiness with leadership because I think an aspect of (good) leadership is leaving others feeling as though they had a choice in the matter — or at least allows them to feel proud to be involved — which bossiness doesn't necessarily do.

    Honestly, I find this whole new anti-calling-girls-bossy "movement" to rather puffed out and peacockish, if that even makes sense. I feel like the media is always looking for something to make a big deal out of and people seem to rush to new causes without giving them the type of thought they should — as your post inspires. The anti-bully movement, however, is something I'm behind 100% :)

  10. I graduated from college with a PR degree and I so often see people getting worked by the media. This annoys me and with all of the bullying discussions we could have this "bossy"debate taking the forefront just seems like a weak attempt at pushing a weak issue and not actually addressing issues that matter to both young girls and boys. These are the same people though who have given us Kim Kardashian….

  11. I just now saw your post on the blog hop….guess what I had written about today?? :) I believe we are on the same page. I am weary of the media trying to control every aspect of our lives with the ridiculous. There are surely more important things in the world! Bossy is a personality, you cannot change personalities. You can teach your "bossy" children to use their leadership skills wisely. There is a difference between being bossy and being a bully. Love what your daughter did!

  12. Just read your post and I loved it. I am right there with you and I love that I am finding so many other kindred spirits who also feel this whole discussion is ridiculous.

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