Be Seen as a Strong (not bossy) Leader: 4 Qualities for Females to Lead Successfully

(3-minute read) It’s no secret that female leaders are often labeled as bitchy or bossy. In fact, recent research shows that women who exert their leadership by behaving like men are seen as “bossy” and “less effective” than their male counterparts who behave the exact same way (but are praised for it). I know it’s hard to believe, right? What makes matters worse is that some women even perceive other strong women in this negative light. This can obviously have a detrimental effect on our future. As women, we need to work together to redefine what it means to be a leader – regardless of sex.

As mothers, it is our responsibility to nurture our daughters so they can become valued and respected leaders.  Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a magic recipe for how to do that.  Having said that, one of my GAALSters seemed to find just the right blend of ingredients that resulted in her ability to lead in a confident yet reserved manner, while being highly respected by her peers. Sometimes the most unexpected combinations make the best dishes. Turns out people are the same way.

At the end of sixth grade, Ella decided she no longer enjoyed swimming (despite excelling on the swim team for three years prior). Ella’s parents, although reluctantly, decided that she did not have to continue competing as long as she chose an alternative activity that provided some sort of exercise. It could be anything. While dancing would have been her first choice, she unfortunately was not able to join her friends at the local facility. Despite her keen interest and promising ability, she had not taken the prerequisite classes that her friends had (which is another issue in and of itself, but I’ll save the discussion about early specialization in sports for another blog). So dancing was off the table for Ella.

Ultimately, she ended up choosing to play basketball. Now, she didn’t necessarily have an interest in it. In fact, she had never even played before. But some of her friends were playing, which is of course the reason it even appealed to her in the first place (girls really are social butterflies). And since there were no cuts in 7th grade, Ella made it onto the school team. The challenge was that the other girls had not only been participating since they were little, but they had also been playing competitively on club teams. You can imagine the difference in Ella’s skill and ability. But to her credit, Ella continued (with  little improvement).

One day I was speaking to the coach of Ella’s 9th grade team (about something completely unrelated) when she asked me who on her team had participated in GAALS. I listed the names, including Ella’s. She shared with me that Ella was taking on a leadership role on the team.  Knowing Ella’s lack of ability, I was surprised.

The coach explained that Ella often spoke up in practice when her teammates were not doing what she had asked of them, whether it was because they were not listening, deliberately choosing not to participate, or doing the exercise wrong. I was happy to learn that some of the skills we cover at GAALS were coming into play. Even though Ella knew where she fell in the team hierarchy (in terms of skill), she apparently felt comfortable enough with herself (and her teammates) to have a voice…to lead. And her teammates respected her enough that they followed her “orders,” and got back in line to do what she asked of them.

I was in awe of Ella. Perhaps because I grew up with zero athletic ability and would never dare open my mouth to anyone about anything sports related. I remember feeling super uncomfortable and inferior to my friends, and seemingly everyone else in the school, because of it. I tried to imagine having the strength and courage to speak up like Ella, but envisioned my childhood friends ignoring me. Or worse, being rude. I could hear them saying, “You don’t even know how to play and you’re telling me what to do?!”

So, I couldn’t help but wonder what made Ella successful in her approach. I I wanted to learn more about it-understand it and break it down-so I could help others achieve the same success. I began thinking about the time Ella spent at GAALS, about her personality. She was always participating, challenging herself, and trying new things. She had incredible willpower and never gave up. I watched Ella grow more comfortable in her own skin. All wonderful character traits that have clearly paid off, but not in the way I assumed it would.

It got me thinking about the other girls at GAALS who demonstrated these same traits.  How come they were not natural leaders? What was it about Ella? I had some ideas but wanted to more details, so I contacted her mother, coach, and teachers. With these various perspectives (and information), I was able to paint a pretty clear picture of this strong, confident leader who doesn’t come off as bitchy or bossy – a rare breed indeed. Using Ella as a model, I put together the following recipe to help empower other young girls, and even women. The hope is that everyone finds just the right ingredients to thrive as a leader.

The 4 Qualities That Make a Successful Female Leader

1) She is a rule follower.

Ella has a strong moral compass. She believes that rules are in place for a reason, so it’s necessary to follow them. At the end of the day, every group benefits from a rule follower to establish safety and order.

—> Because of her ability to distinguish between rules that are fair/meant to protect vs those that are more arbitrary, everyone around her respects when she insists that they abide by them.


2) She works hard, sets high goals, and is persistent.

Whether it’s schoolwork, babysitting, participating in a club, or any other commitment, Ella takes her job seriously. She feels responsible for the outcome and wants it to be positive. Ella clearly communicates her goals and strategies and follows through.  

—> As a result, people who see this admire and respect her.


3) In a group (friends or otherwise) she is not the outspoken or loud one.

Ella is willing to take a back seat and go with the flow. In other words, she finds the right balance between being a follower and a leader. Ella saves being forward, direct and/or bold for occasions that really warrant them. Like safety situations or doing things that are illegal or wrong.

—> As a result, when she has something important to share, she speaks firmly and people recognize the difference and tend to listen.


4) When others are talking, she listens.

Ella doesn’t simply try to interject so she can be part of the conversation. She only adds when she has something that lends itself to what others are saying, and when it’s appropriate.

—> As a result, people don’t feel like she is trying to compete with them. They don’t feel threatened. So combined with the above, it makes Ella’s words even more powerful.  

By nurturing more women to lead in this manner, we can offer society a whole new generation of strong, assertive, and successful female leaders.




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