The Problem with Telling Bossy Girls they have Leadership Skills

I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw this graphic appear on my feed.

The quote is from the Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg. I first heard of Sandberg when I watched her Ted Talk. I thought her talk was inspiring and just what women at work needed to hear. I loved when she said women need to sit at the table, and think they still need to hear this. He speech motivated me to step up my leadership skills at work. Listening to Sandberg’s talk led me to read her book, which I had varying thoughts on.

Anyways, back to the quote. When I first started seeing it around the internet, I was again inspired. Yes, I thought. Let’s raise girls to be the boss of the playground, the leader of their girl group. Let’s start acknowledging their smarts, not just their looks. Let’s raise them to be the great leaders we know they can be.

I want every little girl who’s told she’s bossy to be told instead that she has leadership skills.

However, the more I thought about this idea, the more I wondered if it is what we should be telling girls (or any bossy kid for that matter). Because really, is being bossy the same thing as leading?

When I think of the “boss” the first person that comes to mind is the one from Office Space. He strolls around telling his underlings to come in on Saturday with last minute notice and micromanages TPS reports. I think we can all agree that he does not have Leadership Skills.

Image from Pharmacy Times

I get it. We want girls to feel confident and empowered. I think this is the essence of what Sandberg was getting at, but being bossy does not equate to being a leader. Let’s take a look. As we can see from, To Boss and To Lead mean very different things.


verb (used with object)
  • to be master of or over; manage; direct; control.
  • to order about, especially in an arrogant manner.


verb (used with object)

  • to go before or with to show the way; conduct or escort
  • to conduct by holding and guiding

Image result for leader vs boss

Instead of telling bossy girls (or bossy children in general) that they have leadership skills, we should guide them on what it actually means to be a leader. It’s easy to order others around. My son is only three months old and he’s already mastered being “the boss” by crying out whenever he needs something. As parents and adults who kids look up to, we can model what it means to be a leader.

We can do this by example in showing patience, empathy, and embracing failure to learn from what went wrong. We can involve our kids in the processes of our lives so they can learn what it means to be a good communicator, help plan a family outing, and have an optimistic outlook. We can be proud of developing our children to be leaders in any aspect of their life. Because you don’t have to be promoted as the boss in order to lead.