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Ban Bossy and build leadership skills

Building up leadership skills in young ladies starts by choosing words carefully.
Building up leadership skills in young ladies starts by choosing words carefully.
Pilsung ATA Martial Arts

Over the last 24 hours the joint project ‘Ban Bossy’ has become a hot topic in the news. News stories such as Groups want to nix the word ‘bossy’ posted March 11 on WISHTV.com are becoming more and more common. Unfortunately, the “backlash” responses are just as prevalent. There is merit to the project and concept. To realize its power and potential we must look past the “branding” to see the real mission. If we want to develop strong female leaders we need to make sure they are engaged in the right type of activities and education.

The project, a joint effort between Lean In founded by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, and the Girl Scouts , is focused on developing leadership skills in girls and young women. The whole project may meet with indifference, and ultimately have little impact, due to its perceived focus. The opening statement from the Ban Bossy website may turn people off to the project,

When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don't raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead. – BanBossy.com

An example of the impact that “mission statement” has had comes from Forbes.com,

For one, 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.
Bossy is not the same thing as being a leader, even though Sandberg might view it that way. Leadership is an entirely different category. There are bosses who are leaders, and bosses who are bossy. We’ve all worked for them. We know the difference. – Micheline Maynard , Contributor

Micheline Maynard makes some good points, echoing some of the sentiment being voiced online in places like Facebook and responses to news outlet postings on the story. The focus on the word and not the actions makes the project seem petty and ineffectual. As a culture and adult leaders we do need to take care in our choice of words, they have power. When we choose carefully we can build up young leaders. When chosen poorly our words can do great damage. This, however, is not enough. Those who are casting doubt and downplaying the project key in on the fact that the project is simply trying to “ban the use of a word” and the fact that simply avoiding a word is not enough to make the difference that is needed.

The real project, the development of leadership in girls and the support of girls who are interested in being leaders in their community, is an important one. Sandberg and the Girl Scouts are on the right track, we need to be developing stronger, better prepared female leaders. The Ban Bossy Project, when you dig deeper, has this development as its focus and the quote shown on the Girl Scouts website makes this more clear,

Let’s Ban Bossy Together!
We are proud to partner with LeanIn.Org to bring you Ban Bossy, a public service campaign that helps girls flex their leadership muscles (and have fun doing it)—something we’ve been doing at Girl Scouts for more than a century. – Girl Scouts

One way to accomplish this mission is to get them involved in martial arts programs that include leadership training. As the Girl Scouts message says, the program must be fun and engaging. These are key aspects of good martial arts programs and one of the many things a martial arts program can add to the Ban Bossy Project. Martial Arts have the ability to build the confidence of an aspiring female leader. Martial Arts can provide local resources for teaching young ladies the skills that transform the ‘bossy’ actions that get the label into real leadership skills that can make a difference.