In Praise of Bossy Women

I have never considered myself to be bossy, (having inherited my father’s more conciliatory disposition), but the older I get, the bossier I become.

The women in my family are like that…bossy.  They have been bossy for generations in fact.

My great grandmother raised four daughters and, with her husband, ran a dry goods store somewhere in the south of Cornwall.  My great grandfather was a handsome devil, with, (I’m told), something of a roving eye.  I imagine great grandma must have had to fend for herself on many an occasion.  Being bossy probably came in handy.

And there were others:

My maternal grandmother, married a sailor and spent some years raising her three children on her own, while my grandfather served in the Merchant Navy during WWI, and afterwards too. Bossiness was a necessary skill.  And, when my grandfather returned home from his travels, and later became ill, Nana took constant care of him.  It probably helped for her to be a little bossy then too.

My paternal Grandmother was also a Shopkeeper.  She married a man with little ambition, I’m told, and a penchant for gambling and drink.   Together they had five sons.  During the 1920s and 30s everything was scarce, at least for them.  Grandma bought her shop when the opportunity presented.  She sold things like bacon and processed meat on one side of it and on the other, tinned goods, cigarettes and the heaven that was chocolate bars and sweets.  She raised chickens in her back yard too.  Dad often said that if not for his mother, they might have starved.  She was determined and focused and yes, probably a little bossy too.

When dad’s parents both became ill with cancer, my Auntie Ethel took care of them.  Auntie Ethel was a wonderful woman.  On first glance, she might have been described as “homely”.  But in every other sense, she was a beauty.  It was Auntie Ethel who saw the intelligence in my father and insisted that he go to high school, in spite of opposition from his brothers and perhaps certain indifference from my grandparents.  Auntie Ethel was a driving force in my father’s life and he loved her even though, or perhaps because, she was bossy.

My mother defied the convention of the early fifties and sixties by working full-time while having a family.  Luckily, my parents had a great partnership, with dad sharing the domestic workload happily.  The world however, was not particularly approving of her.  When confronted by the Principal of my elementary school about her “duty” to remain home to care for her children, she raised herself up to her greatest height of five foot three and told him to where to go.  She was a force to be reckoned with and one who successfully propelled (and yes, bossed) me through my years of excruciating shyness and self-doubt.

When I reflect on these stories, I am reminded that leadership comes in many forms.   And sometimes being bossy can be a good thing.

Sometimes you just have to stand up and be counted: tell people what’s what and sort things out.  Sometimes it’s the only way to get things done…or survive.

So go ahead, choose your times carefully, but be bossy every now and then.  Just don’t be like my Auntie Flossie.  She crossed the line into the land of tyranny and my uncle Reg no doubt died before his time, just so he could get some peace.

So, when have you had to stand up and be counted just to get things done?

Who are the people in your life who have propelled you forward?

When do you think it’s a good thing to be bossy?

Oh, and just in case you are on the receiving end of some bossiness, here’s a link that will help you to think through it.

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20 Comments

Filed under communication, Establishing Direction, Leadership Style

20 responses to “In Praise of Bossy Women

  1. Ginny

    Great post Gwyn – right up my alley! Growing up with two older brothers left little room for me learning to be bossy, they were always bossing me around. However when I turned eight years old, my mom had a baby girl. By the time this baby girl was four years old, I was her boss! Our mother chose at that time to work outside of the home and I became babysitter/boss! Yes, that was the beginning of my new career, I have been a proud bossy woman ever since! My very first job happened to land me with the best boss ever. To this day, I use tools he gave me at the age of sixteen. Mr. Dean was a amazingly driven boss. He taught me how to right a schedule for thirty five part-timers and still keep within the budget! Mr. Dean is my boss hero! My friends invite me over, just so they can sit back and let the bossy one take charge of the kitchen and delegate the cooking, the cleaning and the relaxing! I am a proud to be bossy woman!

  2. Gwyn Teatro

    Ginny,

    And you are an accomplished bossy woman too! I love your pride in it too.

    Your comments have me thinking about the difference between a bossy woman and a bully.
    I think the difference is that a bossy woman operates from a place of love and a bully from a place of personal power. It sounds about right to me. What do you think?

  3. Gwyn,
    Beautiful post. You share a wonderful family story. I think within the context of the family, you are unofficially elected to the office of boss in the area of your “expertise.” My Mom was the boss of all things family. My Dad was in charge of nuclear disarmament, the Berlin Wall, resolving the U-2 overflight incident, and bringing home money.

    Outside the home, a business leader is expected to lead. Whether we label him the “boss,” the “tyrant,” or a “terrific leader,” the buck stops there. In today’s business environment, much is written about asking questions, empowering employees, 360 degree leadership, and other enlightened tools. The bottom line, the leader sets the tone and adopts whatever leadership style fits.

    How would you characterize the leadership style of Jeff Immelt? Does he boss people around? How about Meg Whitman? Was she a bossy boss? How about Blankenship? Would you follow him anywhere? Last but not least, was Shirley Berezin (My Mom) a boss? My Mom didn’t ask a lot of questions. She was a lady of action.

    Enjoyed the conversation. Gotta go wash the dishes before I get into trouble with my boss.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Larry! So nice to *see* you here!

      My hunch is that there is a place for “bossiness” in every successful leader’s repertoire, because every now and then we all need a bit of a “push”.

      And your Mom? It’s possible that she had more answers than questions, just like mine, and simply got the job done…and that’s what leaders do.

      Thanks for coming by Larry…and make sure you do a proper job on those dishes or you’ll be getting them back to do over 🙂

  4. Formidable, Gwyn!
    I love to read post like yours, which share personal stories. They are so inspiring!
    You describe the women in your family so well, that it almost feels like they’re part of my family.
    “Bossy” becomes a necessity, an act of faith and courage when faced with adversity, lack of resources, emergencies, lack of decision making.
    Someone has to be in charge, someone has to roll up their sleeves and show the way, and sometimes (I love your use of “sometimes”…) the best way to do it is to do it without asking too many nice questions.
    In our family, my maternal grandmother was famous for being the bossy one.
    She was born in 1906, the year of the horse of fire (according to her, the most undomptable sign for chinese little girls). She grew up in Algeria, during the French colonies, from a Calamity Jane sort of mother who ride a horse and was hiding a carabine under her saddle.She met Antoine de Saint Exupéry in Morrocco and was secretly in love with him. She gave birth to my mom in Bamako, on her own, divorced my grand father when it was just not done and raised her daughters under the German occupation in Paris. After the war, she got herself a job as secretary and got involved into politics. She raised my elder sister when my mother was sick and took charge of everything at home, from cooking for 6 to sewing our clothes. She survived my parents and nearly died in my arms. No doubt she was bossy and full of love and courage, until the end when she faced her death.
    Thank you Gwyn for reminding me of praising my beloved,( and sometimes dread!), Grand Mother (Mamie)

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Marion,

      Thank you so much for sharing the story of your grandmother. What a fascinating life she had!!

      I think you have captured the essence of this post when you say that bossy “becomes a necessity, an act of faith and courage when faced with adversity, lack of resources, emergencies, lack of decision making”.

      It is at those times when we need something or someone to propel us through rough waters. In my life, and from your story, in yours too, it is the women who made the difference.

  5. Gwyn – Another Bubbie (Yiddish for grandmother) story. During the depression my grandmother Annie applied for welfare. When the social worker came to Annie’s home and began to ask intrusive questions, Annie told Ms. Nosy to “Go sh-t on your nose (in Yiddish of course) and threw her out. Ms. Annie began doing other people’s laundry to support her family.

    If you’re going to Be the Boss, you’re gonna have to Be Bossy – sometimes.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Anne,

      I loved your story, and Annie too! There is little more admirable than someone with backbone and heart.
      I’m laughing too, trying to imagine the anatomical possibility of “Sh–ting” on one’s nose!

      Thanks so much for your entertaining comment!

  6. Hi Gwyn – great post and I loved the stories about the women in your life and history. As you know I’m researching bullying in the workplace by women, so am interested in the assertiveness spectrum and how it’s perceived. So I looked up some definitions:

    Bossy : “offensively self-assured or given to exercising usually unwarranted power; “an autocratic person”; “autocratic behavior”; “a bossy way ”

    But – A boss ” a person who exercises control and makes decisions”

    Interesting how going from boss to bossy – the words offensive / unwarranted creep in.

    I think your characters were decisive and assertive, assuming leadership roles.

    Do you think that “bossy” is a word used to describe women more than men? If men are decisive and assertive – what do we call them? Not usually “bossy”.

    Just some thoughts!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Dorothy,

      Thanks so much for adding such an interesting question and some great thoughts to the post!

      Come to think of it, I have never heard the word “bossy” being attributed to a man. And it’s amazing how one little “y” can so effectively change the meaning of a word from something that, in many areas of life, is enviable, to something derogatory.

      You have effectively captured my definition of “bossy” as being decisive, assertive and assuming a leadership role. And yet, I expect that when men display those behaviours, in most areas of society, it would never be described as being “bossy”. It would, I think, be described as something like, “commanding” or “authoritative”.

      Your research on bullying in the workplace by women is intriguing and, I think full of complexity given our propensity for assigning particular labels such as “authoritative” vs “bossy” to the genders.

      I wonder what others have to say. Anyone else care to weigh in?

  7. Hi Gywn!

    What a wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing your story of the amazing and strong women in your family. I love your take on being bossy. I think too many of us apply negative connotations to being bossy. Like you pointed out you have to stand up for yourself, your family and your values and that’s not a bad thing. I also like to think of bossy as purposeful and eloquent communication!!

    Cheers,
    Kelly

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Kelly,

      Yes, “purposeful” is a great word to describe my view of what makes up a “bossy” woman, although I must say that in my family the communication tended to be more blunt than “eloquent” 🙂

      Thanks so much for coming by and adding value to the post!

  8. Given that the word ‘bossy’ has been placed upon the shoulders of women (as pointed out here – a bossy guy is just Type A, or something), and is further associated with a negative rather than a positive trait, it’s nice to see it being reclaimed here. With all of the cultural biases to be cut through, it’s tough to see past those negative connotations. But, with the gender question aside, I think most people look to a leader who is decisive in times of crisis as well as in times when things are going smoothly. Whatever word one uses, I think this is the core of good leadership, with a dash of respect for the opinions and talents of others thrown in, too.

    Cheers for the post!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Rob,

      Thanks for weighing in. It’s great to have another male perspective on this.
      And I agree that decisiveness is part of being bossy and a key to good leadership. With that view it does kind of shift the idea of bossiness toward a more positive light, doesn’t it? Thanks for that!

  9. Leslie

    The last line made me laugh out loud! I’m proud to say I come from a long line of “bossy” women, including my great-great-great-grandmother who emigrated from Scotland to Ontario in the 1820s with four children under the age of 5, and pregnant with a fifth. She went on to have 9 more children while they cleared the land, dug a well, and built a log house. I can only hope I have a quarter of the guts and fortitude she must have had! And it’s my firmly held belief that the human race wouldn’t have survived without bossy women. So, hats off to them. Us. 🙂

  10. Leslie

    By the way, Rob, African American women have reclaimed the word “bossy”. Meaning strong, proud, confident. From “Bossy” by Kelis: “You don’t have to love me, you don’t even have to like me, but you will respect me, you know why? Cuz I’m a boss! … I’m bossy.” 🙂

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Leslie,

      Thanks so much for your story…and a great one it is. Wow, makes one wonder how she ever found the time to *have* 13 children given all the other stuff she had to do!

      I really like your definition of “bossy” too. Thanks for that, and for coming by 🙂

  11. zara

    Hi, well apparently I am bossy according to my mum, nan and a stranger that I have just bought a cooker from. Prior to reading your blog I felt quite offended by this and looked for some reassurance online. I was bought up in poverty, with lots of brothers and sisters, and instead of playing with my friends I would take care of my siblings, cook and clean without being asked. I am now 27 years old, I live about 200 miles from my family and take care of any family problems. I feel very responsible for my mum who has minor mental health issues and my 3 young brothers under her care. It is 2 weeks until Christmas, my mum doesn’t have a cooker, I have been telling my mum for 2 weeks to get a cooker sorted through the welfare as she doesn’t work, she hasn’t. I get online, find a second hand cooker for £45.00 offer to contribute £30.00 to pay toward it, arrange with the bloke selling it a viewing, ask my Nan to go with my mum to pick it up. My Nan goes potty at me because she doesn’t want to deal with it (baring in mind I’m organising this 200 miles away, anyway finally gets sorted without the help of my Nan, and the next day my mum has a cooker for £15.00 from her own pocket, so she and my 3 young brothers can have a Christmas dinner together and then I get a call from mum. Nan, and the cooker man said “Corr, isn’t your daughter bossy”!???. But something needed to be done. I skip the emotions and get to the point, with everything. Please tell me this is some kind of positive part of who I am and I’m not as irritating and overpowering as that sounds to me?

    Thanks and Sorry to go on, I’ve never wrote on a blog before.

    Kind Regards

    Zara

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Dear Zara,

      To me, your story is more about love than bossiness. When we are bossy because we care and because we want others to be happy, it is a wonderful thing. You are a treasure. Be who you are. Wear your bossiness with pride. You’ve earned it…and probably then some.
      Merry Christmas 🙂
      Gwyn

  12. zara

    This has made me feel good about being bossy, I like to take care of everyone around me and your right. I should wear it with pride.

    Thank you 🙂

    Merry Christmas

    Zara

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