Does Sandberg’s “ban bossy” campaign help or hurt women by Roz Usheroff
You would probably have to be on another planet – maybe even in another galaxy – to not have heard of the recent call to arms of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to eradicate the word “bossy” from our everyday vernacular.
According to a Forbes article by Micheline Maynard titled “Dear Sheryl Sandberg: There Are Far Worse Things Than Being Called Bossy,” the writer recounts a slight suffered by Sandberg when she was a junior high school student. Apparently, a teacher told Sandberg’s best friend, “Nobody likes a bossy girl. You should find a new friend who will be a better influence on you.”
While there are certainly no shortages of women jumping on the ban bossy bandwagon, including notables such as Beyonce and Condoleezza Rice, I found Maynard’s position to be most interesting. Specifically her Tweet which proclaimed “I’ve got news for Sheryl Sandberg: there are far worse things for women than being called bossy.”
Maynard then goes on to say “bossy isn’t only a word that applies to women. It’s gender neutral. There are plenty of bossy men out there, too. Bossy is bossy — dictatorial, unyielding, telling people what to do and expecting them to do it without any input.”
I tend to agree with this last point, as men too get called bad words for being pushy. However, in my many years of coaching both genders, I have never heard a man being referred to as bossy, but rather “aggressive”. There are two questions to consider. If a man is referred to as “aggressive”, is that perceived as positive or negative? The second question is more related to how women and men react to a negative and even unwarranted comment.
Maynard ended her article by saying that the word bossy “reflects more about the person who said it than it does about you,” and that one should not “take it personally.”
Once again, there is truth in Maynard’s position that is worth considering beyond gender.
For example, I met with a female several weeks ago who has a very senior position. However, her boss doesn’t seem to believe her collaborative style warrants a higher position in leading people. She has led groups, transformed organizations outside of this company yet her credentials don’t seem to matter. Her boss’ perception is that she is is not strong enough to manage challenging people, yet her results demonstrates the contrary.
On the other hand, I also know a guy who everyone loves. He’s hoping for an EVP role and to sit on the leadership team. His boss says that he isn’t demonstrating leadership qualities like his peers. He’s seen as too nice a guy. Go figure! He brings in the results.
What’s interesting with the above two scenarios is how each responds to what appears to be a harsh and somewhat unfair assessment by their respective bosses. Or to put it another way, what would be the best and most productive way to deal with these situations.
Does it make sense to stand up on a soapbox and proclaim that being called “weak” or being “too nice” should be banned from our language? Alternatively, does it make more sense to receive the feedback, understand the basis for why you are being seen this way and, figure out a way to deal with it so as to remove the obstacle?
Perhaps the answer is found in Sandberg’s own success in that as Maynard put it, she didn’t let the teacher’s comment “stop her, since she’s a billionaire and a best-selling author.”
I can’t help but wonder if Sandberg would have achieved the same level of success if she had chosen to launch her ban campaign when she was starting out, as opposed to using the teacher’s slight as motivation to ascend the corporate ladder to the lofty position she now holds.
In other words, by placing an emphasis on a word or words as opposed to rolling up your sleeves and focusing on getting the job done, is Sandberg hurting or helping the next generation of women leaders?
Last, if by chance you do receive feedback that suggests you are either “bossy” or “aggressive”, I would encourage you to ask the person to explain what that looks like. At best, you can decide if his/her perspective is valid.