An Homage to Bossy Women

Women demonstrate leadership every day; in their families, their communities, their businesses and their countries.  This post is a refreshed version of one I wrote in 2010 about women in my family who span three generations.  In acknowledgment of International Women’s Day on March 8th,  this is a salute to them and to all women who embrace their inner bossiness; focus on what’s important; and make a positive difference in the lives of those around them. 

Growing up, I never considered myself to be bossy, having inherited my father’s more conciliatory disposition, but the older I get, the more like my mother I become.  As a result, my inner bossiness, which once lay dormant, now rises up with greater regularity.

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, England.  My great grandfather was a handsome devil, with, (I’m told), something of a roving eye and possibly feet to match.  I imagine great grandma must have had to fend for herself on many an occasion.  Being bossy probably came in handy.

My maternal grandmother married a sailor and spent many years raising her three children on her own while my grandfather served in the Merchant Navy. Bossiness, for her, was a necessary skill.

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 was a smart businesswoman though.  Through her hard work, her shop became the mainstay of her family’s livelihood.  And, in her “spare time”, she raised chickens in her back yard.  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 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 and equal partnership.  The rest of 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.  But, throughout, there is an undeniable theme.  It is about leading the way and also pushing through, the hard stuff with determination and heart.  It’s about standing up against unwarranted and unsolicited criticism.  And, it’s about finding ways to make things work in spite of the inevitable obstacles that litter the path to success or, in some cases, survival.  In short, while we often view bossiness in a negative light, there are times when its usefulness should not be underestimated.

So go ahead, tread 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 to get some peace.

How about you?  How have the women in your life influenced you?

What do you think?



Filed under communication, Leadership, Leadership Style

13 responses to “An Homage to Bossy Women

  1. Hell, yes! Love all these stories of your strong, determined female ancestors. Women have always have to be strong, but are only valued and praised publicly much of the time for being docile. Nice.

    My mother and grandmother and stepmother were all bossy indeed and so am I. I’d rather risk disapproval and dislike than end up being someone’s doormat.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Caitlin ~ Standing up for oneself and others is key to being bossy with purpose which more often than not requires some courage.Thanks for bringing your bossy self here and for taking the time to comment.

  2. Wonderful post and stories Gywn.
    Of course my mother was bossy, she needed to direct her children, give them feedback and help them learn. I know saying someone’s bossy is a criticism or put-down but as you pointed out there are many benefits and needs for a boss. When the word boss is used, it’s directed toward men and not seen as negative in and of it’s self and yet it’s extension, bossiness, is seen as negative and directed toward women.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Cherry ~ Yes, add a few letters and the meaning of a word takes on a whole new personality. It’s kind of curious how that happens isn’t it? Thanks for weighing in here. It’s always lovely to ‘see’ you 🙂

  3. Terry Thomas

    HI Gwyn, Your previous post about Ms Thatcher got me thinking: about how to stay focused on goals and also how to respond to world changes. This am I saw a TV segment “Live LIfe and Win” about teenagers making a difference. One of the girls makes jewelry, donates profits, and also makes compassion kits to send bracelet making kits to empower women. Well, your blog and the TV show sent me on a search to find other stories of heroes and leaders. I found a site celebrating heroes. I could tell you stories about the bossy and successful women in my life. Though I think you will enjoy this story to celebrate spring and
    International Women’s Day. Kudos to women leading liberating lives!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Terry ~ Thank you for sharing the link to Wangari Maathai’s story. It is most certainly a hero’s story and one that illustrates strength at the core and what’s possible when we believe in something fervently enough to stand up and fight for it. There are so many ways that women make a difference in the lives of others. Thanks so much for highlighting some of them here. You make a difference too 🙂

  4. Gwyn,

    Thanks for sharing the stories of the women in your family! I’ve been very fortunate to both have amazing women in my family and I’ve had many outstanding women managers/bosses.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Greg ~ Thanks for coming by and dropping a comment on this post. While celebrating the accomplishments and grit of women, you have now given me an opportunity to say how much I believe in the premise that truly great results occur when men and women collaborate with each other to fulfill a common purpose.

  5. Hi Gwyn,
    Been thinking about a post to celebrate women’s voices this month and in popped your enjoyable post. Loved the vignettes and the legacy of strong women in your life.
    I think this is such an important time on the planet for women’s visions and voices to be raised.
    My mother, too, worked full time (bucking convention but out of necessity) as a single mom. She was definitely bossy. I think most of these women had a tough time, certainly relative to today’s cultural norms, but they did it.
    We’re charting new courses and finding new ways to assert our power but we stand on the shoulders of many wonderful bossy women.
    Thanks for profiling them.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Louise ~ Thank you for adding your usual dose of wisdom here. I think this says it all. “We stand on the shoulders of many wonderful bossy women” who have gone before. And, perhaps now we’re up there seeing the world from the height they provide, we will choose also to stand together more often, competing with each other less and collaborating more. If we choose to do that, the possibilities are endless.

  6. Is it just me or does it seem that “Bossy” a label more often assigned to strong, determined women, but rarely assigned to strong, determined men (they tend to be labelled decisive or strong and if it is a negative “bossy” behavior would probably be described as aggressive)?

    I love your call to strong, determined, accountable women to own their “bossiness” despite the interpretation it may evoke!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Susan ~ Yes, it seems that if you add a “Y” to the word Boss, it invokes a whole lot of negative images that take distinctly feminine forms. Cherry noticed that too. Perhaps it’s time to re-define bossiness and give it some good press for a change 🙂
      Thanks for weighing in here. It’s always lovely to ‘see’ you.

  7. Ginny

    Often your post resonate with me, this one actually calls me out loud! I too am a bit bossy, it comes naturally for me, as I come from a long line of strong women. Not all of these strong women in my live appear to be bossy at first glance but you best not cross them or you will be the wrath of bossy and more!
    Thanks for bringing this great post bs k to light, it’s a good one.

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