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Ban Bossy, Not Just the Word

Bossy: fond of giving people orders; domineering. Synonyms: domineering, pushy, overbearing, imperious, officious, high-handed,authoritarian, dictatorial, controlling.

With the emergence of the #BanBossy movement, there has been a lot of conversation going on around the word “bossy” lately. While I commend their mission to smash labels and empower girls (and fully believe women have an awesome responsibility to pay-it-forward), the message falls a little short for me. Why? Because inspiring great leadership isn’t as simple as wiping out a word.

By banning “bossy,” the movement somehow suggests that it’s a word, rather than the qualities that define that word, that are holding us back. In doing so, it sends a message that it’s acceptable to be bossy — as long as nobody uses the term. And that’s where I couldn’t disagree more.

Bossy isn’t a badge of honor; it’s not aspirational or inspirational. Bossy is a choice in behavior. Bossy isn’t something to brag about, it’s something to work on. It’s a flaw, not a feature. It’s not exclusive to one gender or the other. And it doesn’t make you a leader, it makes you a jerk.

We don’t need to ban “bossy,” we need to ban bossy people. Suggesting that eradicating the word is going to clear the path for a generation of great female leaders to emerge is kind of like treating a gunshot wound by placing a band-aid over the point of entry. It might stop the bleeding a bit, but it does nothing to address the real problem at the core.

Bossy people are not great leaders and great leaders are not bossy people. Differentiating between the two is surprisingly easy. You’ll find bossy people at the front of the pack dragging everyone behind them. You’ll find great leaders at the back of the pack, cheering their team onward and upward. Great leaders are not ramrods or bullies. They’re not hostile, defensive, aggressive or belittling. They take joy in pulling people up, not pushing them down or running them over.

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to work alongside some prolific, generous business minds; a mix of people who know how to push and prod, motivate, challenge and inspire. They continue bringing out the best in their people by revealing the way, not by dragging us down the path. No matter how good you are at your job, if you’re bossy, you’re bad at business. Why? Because, as one of my bosses and mentors always says,“We’re all in the people business.”

It’s time we separate the bosses from the “bossies,” but it can only happen if we reject, once and for all, the notion that bossy behavior is somehow indicative of leadership potential. I think we can all agree that empowering the next generation of great leaders — male and female — is about so much more than semantics.