Can you be too bossy in business?

Can you be too bossy in business?Few of us like to be called 'bossy', a term that is usually applied negatively to women. But why can being a bossy boss be bad for your business?

Earlier this year, LeanIn.org, a not-for-profit organisation set up by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg “to empower all women to achieve their ambitions”, teamed up with Girl Scouts USA to launch the Ban Bossy campaign.

It attracted support from numerous high-profile women, including singer Beyoncé and former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. As well as urging people to stop calling females 'bossy', it encouraged women to take more of a lead in the workplace.

According to the campaign’s website: “When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a ‘leader’. Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy’. Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys – a trend that continues into adulthood.”

Stereotypical behaviour

“The term ‘bossy’ is applied negatively to women, when men who act in the same way are described as driven or assertive,” says Louise Weston, managing psychologist at business psychology consultancy Pearn Kandola.

“It comes down to gender stereotypes. Men are ‘supposed’ to be assertive, ambitious, confident and bold; while being warm, nurturing and kind are stereotypical ‘female’ behaviours. Many stereotypical male behaviours are aligned with success in business, and if a woman displays characteristics associated with success and leadership, often she’s evaluated negatively.”

As Weston explains, assertiveness is an element of personality and some people are more naturally assertive. However, an individual’s self-awareness and the environment in which they operate also have an impact. “Some people are much more driven and extrovert. They’re willing to say what they think, but that can become overbearing if it’s constant.”

Overly dominant

Managers may know they’re overly dominant, says Weston, but it might go unchallenged or they might believe it serves them well. “Some managers fail to notice the negative impact their directness has. Overly dominant people can change their ways, but it takes a lot of hard work.

“Although leaders must be able to give clear direction and assertiveness is appropriate at times, being too domineering impacts negatively on team engagement and employees’ ability to be productive, be creative, learn and develop. Generally, better results can be achieved by including and engaging with employees, rather than simply telling them what to do and how. Being a dictatorial boss won’t enable you to get the best out of your people,” she warns.

Command and control

“I don’t like the word ‘bossy’ and hated being called ‘boss’ when I was a manager,” recalls leadership expert and HR/management consultant Alison Love. “The term ‘boss’ doesn’t describe an appropriate modern leadership style, it describes an outmoded style of ‘command and control’ management.

“Although the term ‘bossy’ is more usually applied to women, in my experience, many more men use this style of ‘leadership’. Women are often more collegiate and inclusive.”

Love believes that it is possible to be too bossy when running your own small business. “It’s often said that employees don’t leave businesses, they leave managers. If you are too bossy, your employees will be less engaged and less motivated – some will leave as a result.”

Employee engagement

“If employees are given autonomy, mastery and purpose, they’re more likely to go that extra mile for you and become a real advocate for your business. The evidence is clear – high levels of employee engagement have a hugely positive impact on an organisation’s bottom line,” Love adds.

So, what is the key to managing staff within a small business? “Recruit good people in the first place, then trust their judgment,” Love replies. “Have the courage to let go and let people get on with things without your unnecessary interference. A good manager provides support, while allowing employees the space to get on with doing their jobs,” she concludes.

Leadership skills

“Telling employees how to do something should be the exception rather than the rule,” says Love. “It’s better to state what outcome is required and allow employees to achieve that in their own way. Clear direction should always be given on appropriate behaviours, attitudes and values.”

While leaders should not shy away from voicing their opinions, they should welcome the opinions of others. “Leaders don’t have all the answers and it’s dangerous to assume they do,” notes Love. “Some leaders are afraid to admit this, because they fear being seen as weak or vulnerable.”

Employees also dislike it when managers don’t trust their decisions, Love adds. “Often small-business owners mistakenly believe that no one else can do as good a job as them. Many of them don’t take enough time to get to know their staff, which is another mistake.”

Rather than impose your views on employees, Love says it’s more advisable to try to win their support. “They will be far more engaged and motivated if you ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’ them towards your thinking. Good leaders provide a vision for their employees,” she stresses.

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