Sheryl Sandberg bossy equals unquintessential leadership “I want every little girl who’s told she’s bossy to be told instead that she has leadership skills.” – Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg is quite disappointing, not just as a role model for women, but also as a role model for leaders, because this quote illustrates – as does her 2013 book, Lean In – that she doesn’t really know a whole lot about what leadership really entails and that she isn’t a quintessential leader.

Sandberg is an example of someone who’s in a leadership position – she’s the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook – who isn’t a leader. In fact, she’s an example of an unquintessential leader.

Why?

This quote encapsulates Sandberg’s philosophy and lifeview. And her philosopy and lifeview are dead wrong.

But I also realize, that from time to time, we all need a refresher on and a reminder of the basics, especially as our society blurs more lines between “this” and “that” and as our language morphs into opposites suddenly equaling each other.

This is a responsibility that I, as a striving quintessential leader, have to my teams. And that includes each of you.

So let’s examine why bossiness and leadership are not the same thing and why they are, in fact, completes opposites of each other. 

While the list of differences between what bossiness and leadership are is lengthy, I’ve chosen to highlight a few of the more important differences between the two.

One important difference between bossiness and leadership is that bossiness seeks to control, while leadership seeks to guide.bossy attributes unquintessential leadershipThe trait of of bossiness is always about control – and the bossy person getting their way at all costs. This is a byproduct of narcissism, of pride, of insecurity, of fear, and of internal inadequacy.

This is also a black-and-white view of outcomes: if I don’t get my way, I lose (control and everything else) and if I do get my way, I win (control and everything else). In fact, there are no processes with bossiness, just outcomes. Everything in life is a tick in the W or L column, and ticks in the L column are unacceptable.

Leadership, on the other hand, is about guidance. It creates frameworks and teams. It recognizes that there are multiple ways to achieve the same goal and it clearly delineates guidelines (ethical, moral, functional, etc.) within which the teams are free to navigate, making the best use of their talents, their abilities, their education, and their experience.

Leadership is the glue that ensures that the dots get connected, but it doesn’t legislate every step the teams take to connect those dots.

There are failures, but not losses. There are mistakes, but not catastrophes (the guidance of leadership sees catastrophes in the making and stops them before they become catastrophes). There are successes, but not wins. Inherent in the processes of each of these areas, however, are the more important things in terms of leadership: the lessons of experience and the education of future leaders.

A second important difference between bossiness and leadership is that bossiness forces, while leadership persuades.

A bossy person has a “my way or the highway” attitude. Bossy people, who never see a reason to explain their edicts and view people who have questions about their edicts as mortal enemies, always threaten dire consequences to force people to do things their way.

This can come in the form of threats (“if you don’t do it my way, you’ll be fired/shunned/excluded/removed”), intimidation (“you won’t get that promotion/grade/position if you don’t do it my way”), and bullying (“I can make every waking moment of your life hell for you if you don’t do it my way”).

As I’ve said before, forcing people to do something may seem to work in the short-term, but it is not leadership nor is it an effective strategy for the long-term.

Leaders, on the hand, motivate their teams by persuasion. Leaders explain everything they are able to explain. They also invite input from their teams on how to address and tackle problems, issues, projects, and goals. Leaders are there to keep the big picture on track, but they are not there to force a single solitary way to meet challenges.

There is generally a best path to success, and leaders persuade their teams to adhere to that path – this is where coaching comes in – while the team works together to build the steps on that path. It’s a very interactive process where everybody on the team is invited, everybody on the team is included, and everybody on the team is expected to make a contribution.

And questions are encouraged. Every time someone starts to ask me a question with some variation of “This may be a dumb/stupid question, but…?,” I always answer first with “The only dumb/stupid question is the one you don’t ask.” I believe that and I practice that. If you don’t know the answer to something, it’s not very smart not to try to get the answer.

quintessential leadership is not bossyA final critical difference between bossiness and leadership is how things are managed. Bossy people micromanage everything and everybody, while leaders macromanage the big things and coach and help their teams as the need arises.

Bossy people literally look over everyone’s shoulders all the time. This is because when you have to force people to do things in a rigid, inflexible way, because people are individual and unique, you can’t trust everybody to adhere perfectly to that rigid inflexibility.

Most of this is a result of the “square peg in a round hole” principle: some people just don’t have the skills or abilities to follow a rigid and inflexible pattern that is diametrically opposite to how they think and work. It’s not that those people aren’t fully capable of doing the task or job right and well, but instead because they would accomplish it a different way that uses their gifts and strengths.

Leaders, on the other hand, build diverse teams that purposefully include people with unique talents and abilities so that when the teams work as units all the bases are covered. In other words, there are no gaps in knowledge, experience, and skills. Leaders trust their teams.

Leaders and their teams work together to plan and execute at the macro level. Each team member is given autonomy and authority over his or her part of the project or goal (again, within the big-picture framework in terms of scope and function and in terms of what’s ethical and what’s moral) with the understanding of how his or her part fits in with the other parts.

Leaders take care of the macro things like budgets, resources, time, as well as ensuring that things – and people – not only move forward, but move forward to successful completion. Again, it’s an interactive, but not intrusive process.

So the question I leave you with today, my fellow quintessential leaders, is are you bossy or are you a leader? 

 

Comments
  1. moeleftwich says:

    You make a great point about working together. Bossy individuals take an “I am the King/Queen” approach; while leaders get dirty like everyone else.

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