Sandberg: Are You Bossy or Merely Showing Leadership Skills?

Sheryl Sandberg with quote
I shared this photo of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg from the Take The Lead Facebook page (please go like the page right now, so that Take The Lead will earn a dollar!) onto my own Facebook page.

It has sparked an interesting and somewhat contentious conversation about whether the problem is that women (and men, I suppose) will equate bossiness with leadership if they do what Sheryl recommends.

Here is my response: “I think every woman out there knows exactly what Sheryl means. The truth us that whenever a girl or woman asserts herself, she is seen a bossy, whereas with boys and men, it’s just a cultural norm. Women are judged more harshly when they advocate for themselves, negotiate for higher compensation, or make the kinds of decisions that leaders are called upon to make every day, for example. We need to get over worrying about what people think and just do it. Then women as leaders will become just the way things are.” What are your thoughts and experiences about this?

Please let us know here, and then, pop on over to “like” Take The Lead’s Facebook page and earn a dollar to advance women’s leadership parity.


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  1. CJ Kinney on April 16, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Absolutely. And, sad to say, the harshest critics of women’s leadership ‘style’ & success are other women.

    What’s called leadership & decisiveness in men is called bitchiness in women. In fact, I believe the word ‘leader’ is used as the masculine form of the word ‘bitch’.

    • Gloria Feldt on April 17, 2013 at 9:52 pm

      CJ, My guess is that we find it harder to take women’s criticism of other women because we don’t realize that the cultural stereotypes shape us as well as shaping the men. Both men and women see men as leaders more easily than they see women as leaders. They both think that women should be nurturing in their leadership styles whereas no one expects a man to be nurturing and if he is the least bit supportive he gets big props.

      I think a leader is someone who gets something done.

  2. Liz @ Creative Liberty on April 17, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    What about women who aren’t “bossy” by nature? I have led teams of writers, mostly remotely, for years, and while I’m certainly capable of making decisions and owning them (a major factor in leadership) I tend to be collaborative and expect my reports to come to me with problems, but demonstrate a high degree of self-direction.

    The “bossy” word has always been a personal trigger for me. I thought for decades I had no leadership potential because I found the concept of “bossy” repellent. I think it’s important to acknowledge that different leaders have different styles. Not all men are aggressive and domineering as leaders and not all women are collaborative … it’s really often a matter of personality and background, not gender.

  3. Gloria Feldt on April 17, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Liz, you fit the definition of a very good leader to me!

    I don’t think that Sheryl is actually saying that bossiness is a fine quality. My understanding of this quote is that we need to turn around the negative connotations heaped upon girls and women who are assertive or directive and recast them as leadership skills. Here’s an interesting video on the Lean In website that explains these implicit biases in more detail: -you might find it interesting.

  4. Liz @ Creative Liberty on April 18, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Thanks for suggesting the video. I’ll have to take a look! I have worked in environments that are male-dominant and female-dominant – it’s been interesting how assertive women are viewed in each one! It’s just been recently that I realized how society has influenced my view of leadership, and how I’ve discounted my leadership skills because of that narrow definition of what a leader is and who should be one! I am going to have to take a look at Lean In soon. I also picked up How Remarkable Women Lead the other day from the library and I’m enjoying what I’m reading so far.