“Heena tu bahu bossy che” (Heena you are so bossy) were the words I was told again and again growing up.
I was smart, and from a young age I showed leadership, but that didn’t make me likable… In fact it took a long time for me to forgive the guys that I went to elementary school with for the teasing, and isolation I felt. The societal message to me was to tone down.
I wanted to be liked, but didn’t know how to be any other way. When I saw a problem, I took charge to resolve it; when I knew the answer, I didn’t hesitate in raising my hand; when I didn’t agree, I spoke my mind. I wasn’t going to be less smart – I didn’t know how to and didn’t want to.
Could I have learned to share my thoughts more effectively? Absolutely! Could I have used less aggression in my style, of course! (But not because aggression is condoned but because it would have made me a more effective leader).
Today, as I learn to be a better leader, I wish that instead of just being told I was bossy – which added even more aggression, which made me feel that I had to prove myself even more that I could be at the top just like the guys, heck even better than the guys – I wish someone had pulled me aside, and course corrected. The word bossy did not inspire, or motivate in a positive way, nor was it a word that gives real (constructive criticism). I wish someone had pulled me aside, praised my capabilities, and most importantly showed me then how to improve upon my innate tendency to lead so I could’ve have learned the adjustments I am learning today over 15 years ago instead of now.
Being called bossy didn’t stop me, but that wasn’t the case for most girls, including my own sister. I started a multitude of organizations, I lead many teams, while many of my girl friends shied away from being the boss. It didn’t seem possible to be the boss and likable at the same time (and now we had research that supports what we girls indirectly already knew at a young age). When I first shared my experiences of being called bossy, she commented – not as judgment of good or bad, but as an observation – that perhaps seeing the feedback I received from displaying ‘executive leadership skills’ (as Sheryl Sandberg says) subconsciously influenced her to be “less bossy” than me. As she said it, I immediately understood what she meant. No doubt, seeing some of the negative repercussions that i faced for being called bossy discouraged her from doing the same. That’s not to say she hasn’t “been the boss,” but she has also taken on more passive roles on teams and in conflicts, when there she could have taken the helm.
Both my sister and I, along with many other women, are working on ways to remove the subconscious shackles that we and society have placed on ourselves that prevent us from truly realizing our potential. The word bossy is by no means the ONLY reason that there are not as many females in leadership roles, but it is an important one. “Bossy” is a great representative of the many preventable factors that stop young woman from developing and embracing their power as changemakers and leaders. It may seem like such a small thing, just a five-letter word, but from personal experience, this one word played a large role in shaping who I am today. Change the word, and with it goes its negative connotations.
#banbossy Encourage girls to lead. Teach girls to be effective leaders when they are young.