When I was in kindergarten, I got in trouble one day when the teacher left the room and I took it upon myself to restore order to the classroom. I marched up to the front of the room, instructed everyone to be quiet and when my classmates didn’t listen, I went to the light switch and turned the lights on and off.
My teacher clearly needed my help, but was not impressed with my efforts to come to her aide. She informed me that this was her class, not mine, while my classmates laughed and called me "bossy," which crushed my little spirit as I thought she and I were simpatico. I thought Mrs. Logan got me, like, really got me.
Mrs. Logan and I moved on and recovered from this incident and a few others, where again my precociousness earned me a few less toys from the treasure box on Fridays.
To be honest, I don’t mind the word "bossy." I've had to grow out of my own insecurities about what it feels like to be different; I never was the kind of person who couldn’t or wouldn’t speak up. It takes a concerted effort to keep my mouth shut.
Unfortunately, society has applied gender norms to words that influence children as they mature. Girls are bossy; boys are leaders. Generations of women are having to unlearn how we were conditioned in our youth to the negative association of the word "bossy."
As a woman in business, growth and success only occurred when I embraced what came natural to me. When I embraced my bossy nature, I came into my own as a leader. I am direct, constantly juggling projects and always saying yes to a new challenge. I also like working in teams, building consensus and delegating roles and responsibilities. I try to collaborate as much as possible, learning that big projects can get accomplished if you rely on the strengths and abilities of others. I surround myself with talented, competent people, share responsibility and, most importantly, give credit and praise to those working with me.
If this were a man describing his work style, he wouldn't be called bossy, he’d be called a leader.
In the little over three years I've been with the Women's Foundation of Arkansas, our "normal" has been taking risks with new initiatives and bigger projects. I constantly get asked how we are able to accomplish so much with such a small team. This month we will host a luncheon for more than 900 people and raise a record amount of money for our mission and programs. My strength is that I recognize the strength of others, and I am not afraid to ask them to step up and lead with me.
Thirty-plus years after Mrs. Logan's class, I am sitting at my office desk and looking at a mug that reads "Girl Boss." I also have a Wonder Woman mug at home. The first was a gift from a former employee, the latter from my husband and son. I love both mugs, I love my people. They get me, they really get me. Being the boss feels pretty good.
Anna Beth Gorman is the executive director of the Women's Foundation of Arkansas. Gorman has committed her professional life to public service with a specialized focus on advancing the status of girls and women in our society.