Happy 'Boss Day' - Just another pointless Hallmark holiday?
by Charly Lester, 17th October 2020
In recent years it was all about being a ‘girl boss’, and ‘bossing life’. But for women, boss isn’t a word we have a great history with. As children many of us were probably called ‘bossy’ at some point – a word rarely used for boys, but far too frequently used negatively towards girls showing any form of leadership skills at an early age.
Is ‘boss’ too male a term? Is it one we need to reclaim? Or should we simply reshape it, so that it fits the kind of leaders we want to be instead? Because I don’t know about you, but for me leading a company is definitely not a question of ‘being bossy’.
During my career I’ve been a boss, and I’ve also been bossed around (by men as well as women, I should underline). And while the Hallmark Day might be designed to celebrate kindness and fairness, these aren’t always skills I’ve seen in those who have led me – or skills which were particularly celebrated in leadership in the larger organisations I’ve worked with.
Looking back my first real experiences of leadership were as a Brownie Guide – someone who should be kind and fair! You are arranged into ‘sixes’ (teams of six girls who you do weekly activities with) and there is a Sixer (leader of the group) and a Seconder (her deputy). The structure was designed so that every girl could experience being either a Seconder or a Sixer, and each week we began to understand the responsibilities of leadership. At the start of the meeting the Sixer would check in with the rest of her team, make sure everyone was present and correct (and in the early days, that their shoes were polished and nails clean!). Human resources? The Seconder would collect 20p coins from every member – budgeting! And every time we had an activity, the Sixer would be the one who would communicate the task from the adult leaders to the rest of the group – communication.
As I look back at that earliest model of leadership, was the fact that we were all equals. We all wore the same uniform. We all paid the same amount to attend. Some people just had more responsibilities than others – and a big part of that responsibility was looking after the newest members of the team.
Years later, and I try to hold on to some of those lessons. Being in charge isn’t about bossing people. It’s about treating people as equals. Treating them how you want to be treated by others. That’s how you get the best out of your staff. If you appreciate a full hour lunch break, or flexible working that helps with your childcare, then your staff will too. If there’s something a former boss did to you which used to make you feel small, think about how you can ensure the same practice doesn’t happen when you’re the one in charge. Because like the Brownie leadership system, the working world is also about growing and inspiring other leaders. And you’ll never achieve that by simply focussing on the word ‘Boss’.