Ban Bossy too Narrow: Let's Lean In to Teach Girls Courage


Ban Bossy too Narrow: Let's Lean In to Teach Girls Courage
Cultivating leaders takes more than banning a word. We must teach girls to push through their fears.

Earlier this week, Sheryl Sandberg's nonprofit, Lean In, together with the Girl Scouts of USA launched a public service campaign called Ban Bossy. Celebrities and CEOs are joining the campaign vowing to ban use of the word "bossy," a label believed to be so painful that fear of receiving it is at the root of girls' resistance to leadership.

Ban Bossy Website Info Very Helpful


The Ban Bossy website highlights the importance of teaching and practicing leadership skills, and features excellent resources written in a style that is concrete and actionable. The materials are downloadable for use by girls, parents, teachers, managers, and troop leaders, all with the aim of educating, encouraging and practicing leadership. Tips span everything from practicing thinking on your feet, to speaking up in class, to teachers and managers making sure to give girls and women the chance to step up. Girls are also taught the importance of setting goals and stretching beyond their comfort zones. There are a host of activities, games, and exercises that are easy to read and filled with simple graphics and smiling women and girls. The messages are both practical and sensitive, and can be easily adopted in our parenting, curricula and workplace.

But "Ban Bossy" Is Too Narrow

While Ban Bossy’s promotion of leadership through its educational materials is excellent, the decision to reduce such a laudable leadership campaign to abolishing the use of the word bossy is a bit confusing, and risks obscuring the point of the campaign.  Sandberg and the campaign materials assert that girls don't speak up - or have the confidence they need to set goals and stretch toward them - out of  fear of being labeled "bossy." She relies in part on a Girl Scout study conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute called “Change It Up.

Girl Scout Study Finds Girls Fear Social Rejection, Not Just Seeming Bossy

The summary of the Girl Scout data from the "Change It Up" study confirms girls’ fears of leadership are indeed broader than that of being labeled bossy. The summary states,
"Barriers to leadership are consistent among girls and boys, but girls experience fears and inhibitions about social acceptance more acutely, in the form of stress, fear of talking in front of others, aversion to seeming bossy, and peer pressure."

In spite of these data, Ban Bossy selectively emphasizes girls’ fears of being seen as bossy, a decision that is unexplained and misrepresents the totality of the findings. This narrow focus does a disservice by missing the other root causes of the problem - stress and social anxiety in general.

Teaching Courage Should Be the Target: Turning Sress and Social Anxiety Into Action

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission.
Article contributed by

Dr. Alicia H. Clark


Alicia H. Clark, PsyD is a licensed psychologist and professor, who specializes in relationships and anxiety, parenting, and helping people cope with stressors ranging from the mundane to the extremes of modern life. Her work has been cited in over 50 online and print publications, including the Associated Press, Time, Forbes, Men's Health, Parents, Shape, and Fast Company.

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Location: Washington, DC
Credentials: MS, PsyD
Specialties: Anxiety Issues, Couples/Marital Issues, Life Transitions
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