Sheryl Sandberg and Beyoncé recently launched a campaign to ban calling little girls "bossy." OK, so I guess I must confess: I call my young boys, repeat BOYS, "bossy" all the time, and not in a good way.
I call them "bossy" when they insist on having their way about (1) what they're required to eat at dinner; (2) what movie we all watch together; and (3) where they sit in the family van. I call them "bossy" when they demand supreme unilateral power to enforce the rules for Risk (who actually knows how to play that game, anyway?). I call them "bossy" when they try to bulldoze a brother into swapping an esteemed Star Wars guy for a handful of cast-off Legos. They're "bossy" when they argue with me about lights out, no matter how few pages to the end of their chapter.
In fact, I call them bossy, in a bad way, whenever they act like their needs and desires matter more than anyone else's in the room. When they insist that every environment and every other human adapt to suit them, first and foremost, including their paper-thin skins. When they claim to know everything, all the time. When they disregard the effect their conduct has on other people's feelings, as we all make our way in our shared world.
Yes, being called "bossy" is a bad thing, but that's because being "bossy" is a bad thing. It's uncomfortable behavior coming from anyone, woman or man, girl or boy.
In the 25 years since I graduated from law school, I've had great bosses -- truly great, inspiring leaders, teachers, supporters and friends -- who would have been mortified if anyone thought their work behavior was "bossy." Not because being called that would have intimidated them from taking on the mantle of true leadership, but because they knew true leadership is not about bossing. It's about compassion, patience and the habit of thinking about others and not just your own self. It's about that most endangered human quality, in our self-regarding culture: kindness.
Now, wouldn't it be something if we could all lean in to that.