Bossiness is NOT leadership: 8 Distinctions Between Being a Leader and Just Being Bossy

Integrity Time is an elementary school program that teaches children about character and choosing "what is good and true and right". I, along with other moms, teach a new character lesson every week. When I saw this week's lesson is on Being Bossy, I thought, oh this going to be good. As I am reading over the lesson, I got a dagger through my heart when I read that I am supposed to tell the kids "Being bossy means to consistently tell others what to do."
That's not being bossy.

The next line thankfully was more accurate. It says, "[b]eing bossy means to be controlling and selfish. 

Now we're talking.

The lesson goes on to describe the perils of being bossy and gives some very good tips on how to deal with bossy people. Now I know what you are thinking. It's a kids lesson so maybe they were trying to keep it simple. Perhaps! But it got me thinking about the way we talk about being bossy in our workplaces.

Make no mistake. Bossiness is NOT leadership.

In fact Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In has a popular quote going all around social media. They are memes and text quotes that get liked and shared all day long. I admit I have even shared a couple of them. It reads...

"I want every little girl who someone says 'they're bossy' to be told instead, 'you have leadership skills."

But Susan Lucas, Inc.com contributor, disagrees with Ms. Sandberg... and after seeing how a children's character development series describes bossy, I have to agree with Susan. 

In her article, titled Bossiness is Not Leadership Lucas writes:

"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. "

If bossiness is not leadership, they what is leadership? Lucas gives 8 differences between leadership and bossiness. 
  • 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.
In light of these distinctions, I say we revise Sandberg's quote to 

"I want every little girl who someone says 'they're bossy' to be told instead, 'you have leadership potential. Now let me show you what a real leadership is'!

What do you think of the list of distinctions? 

This BRAVE Living blog post is for the woman who knows she is called to an even greater level of leadership, influence,  and money, yet can't figure out how to do that day to day. Get 7 Communication Mistakes Women In Leadership Make to understand what might be holding you back. Click here to get it.

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