I went away with a group of old university friends this weekend and I was reminded yet again of my uni nick name - The Boss. I hated it.
I have always been someone who feels confident and capable in an organizational role. I am the eldest of four and used to be the instigator and organizer of childhood games with my siblings. I get pleasure out of working out how we can make something happen, out of making things run smoothly, out of anticipating and avoiding problems. At university those skills manifested themselves in the form of being the one who would happily cook a meal for a large group, who would organize our social lives, plan where we were going and how we would get there.
As a result of those skills I have spent my life regularly being told that I am bossy.
And even now, thirty years on when I see my very dear, and still very close uni friends they still call me Boss....and it still riles me.
It took me quite a long time to understand why. After all I was confident that it was never used maliciously. Sheryl Sandberg really helped me make sense of it a couple of years ago when as part of her Lean in Movement she pointed out that the word bossy is used exclusively about girls and women - boys and men with the same qualities would be described as assertive or confident.
In effect the word bossy is a bit of a put down - designed to put us women back in our rightful place as nurturers and carers.
However I think I have finally reached an age (nearly 50...eeek) where I am going to embrace and celebrate my bossiness. Because on reflection it is the skills that have caused others to call me bossy that make me reasonably good at what I do.
I am effectively going to create my own definition of bossy in my head so that I feel good about it.
For me bossy means:
- Having good organisational skills - making things happen, creating a logical flow, prioritising, making sure people understand their role in making something happen, giving responsibility and accountability.
- Having the confidence to set out a vision, the drive to see it through and the ability to engage others in that vision.
- A love of bringing people together and getting them working together. Helping them make sure that they all understand how their roles inter-connect and inter-depend.
- Being brave - trying new things even when you're not sure how, asking for help and having the guts to say no when I need to say no.
I will actively avoid ever calling my daughter bossy, and I will publically pull anybody up who refers to me like that. But I will look to recruit people - men and women - with the qualities in my definition of bossiness.
And quietly, inside my head, next time my old uni friends call me The Boss I'll just think yep...bring it on.