Forget bossy; How to act like a leader

women high fivingGrowing up, a relative often called me bossy. The term was never used in a positive way. To this day the moniker has left me afraid that being bossy is akin to another b word.

When I saw that Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, started a campaign to ban the word bossy I was intrigued. Her premise is, “When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a ‘leader.’ Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy.’” She states that the word sends a message to girls that being assertive is not okay. They then stop raising their hands in class, or later in the workplace, and show less interest in leading than boys.

While I’m not sure banning the word bossy will truly make a difference, it seems the intent behind the ban is to create awareness of how we treat young girls differently from young boys. It certainly makes you reflect on the words you use and the expectations you have of girls and women.

Just the other day, even after reading the article about the campaign, I found myself thinking of something an acquaintance did as being bossy and the negative connotations that come with that word. I stopped myself and realized she was being decisive and clear not bossy.

Since women only hold 18.5% of the seats in congress, 16.9% hold board positions for Fortune 500 corporations and 14.6% are in the executive suite we have a long way to go before we reach parity in leadership roles.

Without a lot of female role models in leadership positions it can be difficult to know what leadership for a woman looks like and what’s appropriate or not. But, it’s important to convey a leadership persona in order to have more of a chance at moving into leadership roles. Here are some things that are important for women to pay attention to.

Be sure your body language is exhibiting confidence. Sit up straight with your head level to the ground. Look people in the eye when you are conversing. You should hold eye contact 60 to 80% of the time in conversation.

Eye contact should also accompany a firm handshake. Women must shake hands to be taken seriously. Put your hand fully into the other person’s hand so that you touch web to web. And always stand when shaking hands.

When meeting with others, lean towards them to show interest and engagement. Spread your items and your arms out to take up more space rather than staying small. Don’t play with your jewelry, hair or clothes, and avoid excessive head nodding or head tilting. All of which make you seem insecure.

Be sure you’re sitting at the table. In Sheryl’s book she mentions that often times women will sit in the chairs that are on the perimeter of the room, not the ones at the table. Get in there ladies and participate.

In meetings, speak up and contribute your thoughts and ideas. I recently attended the YWCA luncheon with 2,000 other women and some brave men. The speaker was Academy Award winning actress Viola Davis who talked about the importance of overcoming adversity to believe in yourself and make a change in the world. One thing she said that stuck with me was, “We come from a history of women who don’t ask for what they want.” I agree this is often true.

When you speak up and ask for what you want do so with confidence. Avoid using insecure phrases such as “I’m not sure about this, but…” or “I’m wondering if perhaps this isn’t the best approach”. Instead, use phrases that convey decisiveness and certainty of what you’re stating such as, “In my experience…”, “I advise that we…”, “without a doubt” and “we should”.

Be careful not to give lengthy explanations. Women tend to use more words and ramble when speaking. Focus on getting to the point in fewer words.

Lastly, avoid repetitive phrases, slang and sloppy words such as “interesting”, “whatever”, “gonna”, “wanna”, “you know” and “like”.

We may never ban the term bossy and perhaps that’s not really the issue, but through a greater awareness of how to exhibit leadership skills change will happen. And the next time someone calls your daughter bossy, say, “Thanks for noticing her leadership skills.”




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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


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