I grew up in a family where you could say almost anything. The one thing you couldn’t say – at least without hearing about it from my Mom! – was “Shut Up!” Those words were strictly off-limits.
That wasn’t the case at some of my friends’ houses. There, the “Shut Ups!” flew fast and furious. It seemed like a kind of useful phrase, actually, so when I got home, I asked my Mom why we weren’t allowed to use it.
Mom explained that “Shut Up!” was communicating to people that their individual point of view and voice did not matter and that you were closed off from listening to them. She went on to say that in our house we communicate and listen to each other and that’s why we don’t say “shut up.” I am proud to say my leadership training began in my own home. My Mom and Dad were the people who taught me words matter.
Fast forward to the present day, where we have Sheryl Sandberg telling us we should Ban Bossy. The COO of Facebook and author of Lean In: Women, Work & The Will To Lead has some solid research to point to when she says that teenage girls and young women hold back from pursuing leadership roles in part due to the social and cultural messages they receive when they’re told they’re ‘bossy’, especially by people who are in positions of authority, such as parents, teachers, and coaches. Internalizing the idea that asserting one’s authority is a bad thing to do can prevent young women from reaching their full potential.
Just like my parents said, “Words matter.” As a leader, Sheryl Sandberg wants to create discussion and opportunities for education within the community. It’s also important to remember that Sandberg is an adept marketer. If she’d come out and said, “Words matter, and we need to talk about how the language we use when talking to girls about their future career choices and the way they view themselves in the marketplace,” nobody would have listened.
The Ban Bossy campaign, on the other hand, sparked lots of conversation. In the two days since the campaign launched, there are close to 5 million indexed Google pages that refer to it. Every major media outlet has covered the campaign. Twitter nearly melted down under the pressure of people expressing what was good and bad about #BanBossy. The conversation Sandberg wanted to have is happening – with bonus layers of additional, much-needed conversations about what the experience of growing up in America right now is like for young people.
Do I think Bossy should be banned? No. I don’t really think Sheryl Sandberg does either. She wanted more conversation, not less, and she made smart use of controversy – one of the tools in every marketer’s toolbox – to make sure everyone heard what my Mom always said: Words Matter.