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July 12, 2013

Little Miss Bossy? Lean In

Steph Carlin Blue Door Consulting BlogApparently, my daughter is bossy. Her weekly reports in kindergarten said things like “a little bossy this week” or “more bossy than usual.” I adore and respect my daughter’s teacher, and I know she was telling the truth. With two big brothers at home, being bossy is sometimes critical to survival. It could also be part of her DNA, some people say (e.g. her dad) that her mother is a little on the bossy side.

Recently, I read an excerpt from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, “Lean In, Women, Work and the Will to Lead” that gave me pause, and made me think of my daughters’ weekly reports: “When a girl tries to lead, she is often labeled bossy. Boys are seldom bossy because a boy taking the role of a boss does not surprise or offend.”

As a parent for 11-years who spent hours volunteering in the classrooms, it occurred to me that not once had I heard a little boy described as “bossy.” So I started thinking, why aren’t girls encouraged for their bossiness? After all, it’s a sign of leadership and confidence. If you look online, “bossy” is defined with words like: assertive, leader and strong willed. That doesn’t sound bad, does it? As long as you’re being respectful with your words and actions, it can be a lifelong skill and attribute.

I admit, I haven’t read Sandberg’s book, in part because I am opposed to taking advice from a billionaire mother that works for pleasure (and has time to write a book, no less!) Not that this is an excuse (although I am a busy working mom of three) but The New York Times® summary, “Yes, You Can,”  that made me feel like I read it. I’ve since followed the debate enough to determine that she’s right about some things, including when she said: “We have to ask ourselves if we have become so focused on supporting personal choices that we’re failing to encourage women to aspire to leadership.”

Are women, as Sandberg claims, reluctant to “sit at the table” with the boys? Do we scold our daughters too often for being bossy? I think the answer is yes, on both counts. We’ve done a great job telling women they can do and be whatever they want, but we’ve forgotten to tell them that being a leader is pretty great, too.

I should mention I recently went back to work after taking a few years off to be with the kids, hence the interest in the topic. I’m a new associate at Blue Door Consulting, and I’m proud to say it’s a place where I feel like I have the freedom and opportunity to really “lean in.” Maybe it’s because I don’t have to worry about sitting at the table with the boys, because our company is owned (and founded) by two women. In our office, women outnumber men. (Translation: in our unisex bathroom, toilet seat down, please.) Plus, quite a few of us are working mothers, so there’s an established respect for boundaries and unconventional working hours. I’m not just saying this for brownie points, but it’s probably the first place I’ve worked where I don’t feel like being a mother puts me behind the curve.

So I guess you could say I’m leaning in. And as a mother, I’m going to make sure my daughter is aware that she too, can lean in. I want to help her translate her bossiness into exceptional leadership. I don’t care if she is the first female President of the United States or a stay-at-home mom, I just want her to know that she has leadership potential and there are lots of things she can do. In the meantime, the next time someone calls her bossy, I’m simply going to acknowledge it as a compliment and say: “thank you!”