Leadership skills

There's a quote I've seen going around the internet from Sheryl Sandberg about little girls: "I want every little girl who is told she is bossy to instead be told she has leadership skills."

No. Please, please don't do this.

First of all, it's normal for little kids (both boys and girls) to go through a phase of telling other kids what to do. We shouldn't be labeling them "bossy" no matter who they are, because this is a normal phase that some kids go through. Probably as a reaction to the fact that they still are told what to do all day long by adults, so they think this is the way they should interact with others. The point is, though, that this isn't behavior that will help them in life, so we work with them to stop telling others what to do and expecting other to want to go along. As we work to change the behavior we also shouldn't stress out about it because it is a normal phase.

But it's not an adaptive social skill. And it's definitely NOT leadership.

A lot of the world used to think that leadership is about who shouts the loudest, or makes people cry, or tells the most people what to do in a firm voice. But that's not real leadership, and it's hurt more people and organizations than we can count. Do we want to live or work inside Glengarry Glen Ross or Gordon Ramsey's kitchen? Do we want to feel like the only way to get great things done is by either yelling at people or being yelled at?

Over the last few decades there's been tons and tons of research into effective leadership. And what's been found is that leadership consists of:

  • acting in a way that gives others faith in your abilities to make good decisions for the organization
  • treating others with respect and creating situations in which they can succeed and grow
  • asking tough questions and acting responsibly on the answers to those questions
  • bringing out the best in others so that they want to contribute to the organization

So if we want to teach our daughters (and sons) leadership skills--and I think we do--we should be teaching them how to work with others in a respectful way that makes the others want to be part of something exciting and productive. Whether it's building a sand castle at the playground or dividing up Matchbox cars at a playdate or doing a group project in middle school, kids can learn to be real leaders that other people are excited to follow.

But don't tell your kids they're doing something great when they're not. They're too smart and competent to be lied to. And, unlike Tom Cruise in "A Few Good Men," they CAN handle the truth, especially when we model the better way for them.