Sheryl Sandberg says your daughter’s not bossy, she’s a leader

Think your daughter’s bossy? Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg thinks she’s showing leadership qualities. So how best to harness these skills? Sandberg gives us some tips…

Her 2010 TED talk about female leadership amassed millions of hits, it later became a bestselling book: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead – and is now a global movement, aiming to empower women and girls.

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In foundation then joined forces with Girl Scouts of the USA last year for a project that encourages young girls to lead. It starts, says Sandberg, with banning the word ‘bossy’.

“We call our little girls bossy,” she says, “go to a playground; little girls get called bossy all the time – a word that’s almost never used for boys – and that leads directly to the problems women face in the workforce.”

Ninety-two percent of girls believe they can learn the skills required to lead – yet only 21% believe they already possess them. Moreover, both boys and girls think it’s easier for men to become leaders.

So here are some practical tips from on bringing out your daughter’s inner leader…

1. Encourage Girls and Boys Equally to Lead

The Situation
Parents and grandparents are crucial architects of a girl’s leadership potential. Yet as early as middle school, parents place a higher value on leadership for boys than for girls.

The Solution
Reflect on the different messages you may be giving a daughter or son about ambition, future success, and leadership. Parents can legitimise a girl’s most ambitious dreams with acknowledgment and encouragement.

Ask your daughter how she would change the world. Invite her to tell you what leadership means to her. Does she see herself as a leader? What are the ways she leads now, and in what ways would she like to lead more in the future?

2. Be Conscious of the Way You and She Talk

The Situation
Girls learn early that too much confidence can get them ostracized, and you can often hear the proof in how they communicate. Many girls start sentences with apologies (“I’m not sure this is right, but…”) or turn factual sentences into questions (“Martin Luther King was a civil rights leader?”).

Some cock their heads, play with their hair, or cover their mouths while speaking, using phrases like “kind of” and “sort of” to weaken their convictions. These phrases can become habits and hinder a girl’s ability to speak in a direct manner later on.

The Solution
Notice how you communicate in front of your daughter or granddaughter and avoid hedging or softening your opinions with disclaimers or apologies. Be conscious of how your daughter or granddaughter speaks as well.

Reach out to her teachers and coaches for feedback on how she communicates. Girls are vulnerable to perfectionism, so it can be helpful to acknowledge your own hedging words along with hers.

3. Make Your Home an Equal Household

The Situation
The wage gap, along with the belief that women should oversee household work, starts earlier than you think. Research shows that boys spend less time on household chores but make more money than girls.

Parents often place greater value on the chores boys typically perform, like mowing the lawn, than on chores that girls usually do, like folding laundry or dishwashing.

The Solution
Your home is a powerful classroom for your children. Do your girls do “typical girl” chores like cleaning or laundry, while boys take out the trash and mow the lawn? Switch up the assignments.

If certain chores receive more allowance, distribute those chores equally. If you end up doing chores in an attempt to avoid another round of nagging, take care to ensure you’re not doing one child’s work more than another’s.

4. Teach Her to Respect Her Feelings

The Situation
Girls learn early on that being liked and avoiding conflict—even when they’re upset—can win social status and rewards. Many girls are told to “get over” their feelings or to stop being “so sensitive.” A girl’s ability to recognise and respect her feelings, and to speak up about them, is a vital ingredient to developing healthy personal authority and confidence.

The Solution
Teach your daughter to respect herself by letting her know it’s okay to feel whatever it is she feels and to talk about it. She may not like all her feelings, but they’re an important part of who she is; just as we have to take care of our bodies, we also have to take care of our feelings.

Show her by example: avoid denying, second-guessing, or questioning her feelings with phrases like “It’s not a big deal” or “Don’t overreact.” When she’s ready to share with others, be realistic with her about the challenges of speaking up in a world that still expects girls to be nice above all.

5. Mums and Grandmas: Model Assertive Behaviour

The Situation
Girls often learn to please others at the expense of themselves. They sometimes agree to requests even though they may not want to. Later, they feel resentful. Your daughter needs you to show her how to set boundaries in relationships and that doing so won’t end them.

The Solution
Try turning down a request to volunteer when you’re overloaded – and explain why to your daughter. If you do say yes and wish you hadn’t, avoid dropping hints about how you really feel by passively communicating or getting quiet or sullen.

Don’t expect others to guess how you feel; speak up and say it. Let your daughter watch you move constructively through a conflict with a close friend, family member, or colleague and emerge successfully on the other side.

6. Dads and Granddads: Know Your Influence

The Situation
Research has shown that father figures can have a significant impact on a girl’s ability to trust, enjoy, and relate well to the boys and men in her life.10 Girls whose fathers are positively involved in their lives also tend to have higher self-esteem and be more willing to try new things.

The Solution
Dads and granddads, be aware of the power of your words and actions! They matter. Show respect for the girls and women in your life and in hers to help her develop high expectations of other men. Speak out against cultural messages that tell her to value her physical appearance above all else. Let her know you value her for who she is inside.

7. Seize the Power of Organised Sports and Activities

The Situation
Extracurricular activities offer some of the most formative leadership training available to girls. Diverse girls come together to accomplish a common goal: they have to learn to collaborate, speak up, compromise, and even screw up, often under stress.

Sports can be particularly positive for girls. A survey found that more than 80 percent of senior women executives played sports growing up.

The Solution
Get her on a team! Developing her athletic ability is only one part of what she’s there to learn. Embrace the sports field as a classroom where your daughter will learn an invaluable set of social and psychological skills.

If she is not interested in sports, help her seek out another activity where she can be part of a team. Whether it’s debate, band, or chess, there is a group out there for everyone.

8. Get Media Literate Together

The Situation
On average, kids consume technology and media for almost eight hours each day. That’s an education in and of itself. But what are girls learning? Research shows that males outnumber females by almost three to one in family films. Even more discouraging, female characters are almost four times as likely to be shown in sexy attire.

The Solution
Take the time to ask your daughter what she’s watching and reading and why she likes it. Pick a movie or television show and ask: What kinds of messages about girls and women does it send? How are girls and women portrayed and what do they do and talk about? How are girls’ and women’s relationships portrayed? Are the relationships built on trust and caring? What do you think about what you’re seeing?

Have a discussion, not a lecture. Weigh in on your concerns, but remember that she’ll take you more seriously when you can both enjoy and criticise her favourite media.

9. Let Her Solve Problems on Her Own

The Situation
Resilience, the ability to overcome obstacles, is a cornerstone of confidence. When parents step in to solve problems, girls don’t develop the coping skills they need to handle difficult situations on their own.

The Solution
When your daughter has a problem, pause and ask, “What do you want to do about it?” If she says, “I don’t know,” push her gently to consider strategies she might use to deal with the situation and then ask her about the possible outcomes.

Let her decide what she wants to do (within reason). Even if you disagree with her, give her the chance to own her decision and learn a lesson if it doesn’t work out the way she wants. Your confidence in her ability to solve problems on her own will build hers!

10. Encourage Her to Step Outside Her Comfort Zone

The Situation
We feel braver when we prove to ourselves that we can leave our comfort zones, overcome barriers, and master challenging tasks. Many girls struggle to take risks because they worry about failing or disappointing others.

The Solution
Encourage your daughter to try new things, whether it’s going to an event where she doesn’t know a lot of people or asking her to check out with a cashier at the grocery store. If she always lets her friends decide what to do on weekends, encourage her to say what she wants (you can even role-play with her first).

Being brave is rarely about dramatic moments: it’s a skill acquired, little by little, over time. Let her know she doesn’t have to be perfect the first time she does something. She just has to try.

Is you daughter bossy showing leadership skills? In what ways does she like to take charge? We’d love to hear your comments below…