Encouraging traits for leadership

First of all, to clarify: I am not criticizing Sheryl Sandberg or her book. I'm choosing not to read the book because I've seen so many interviews with her in the past year that I know what her message is already so reading the book would be redundant. I don't feel like she speaks to me personally, but I know that a lot of women are loving her message and that's great.

I was specifically criticizing that quote, which, out of context, was rocketing around the internet. As someone who verged on "bossy" as a little girl, I'm very thankful that my mother worked with me to turn my fierceness, determination, and strong sense of self into traits that helped me, instead of allowing me to tell others what to do and barrel through situations without regard for others or for how I was being perceived.

I'm also thankful that she didn't allow others to dismiss me by calling me "bossy." And that she didn't encourage me to push others around by calling that "leadership skills."

It is my hope that we can see the excellent traits our kids have and nurture them, while looking at negative behaviors separately. Being determined is a trait. Telling others what to do is a behavior. There is no reason to label someone for their behaviors. For one thing, it makes the labeler small. For another thing, behavior changes so the label won't make any sense.

But there is a reason to work with our kids on behaviors that won't help them. Teaching kids not to push others around is not denying their positive traits, but it is helping them channel those traits into behaviors that increase their power and expand the pie for everyone. We can create strong, forceful, aggressive, kids (girls and boys both) who know how to work with other people, who inspire because their boldness includes others, and who others love to be led by because of their strength.

At the same time, "shy" kids can learn leadership skills, too. The kids who feel pushed and afraid when other kids overwhelm them, who are sensitive and cautious, they can be great leaders, too. If we convince ourselves or others that it's necessary to be bold and forceful to be a leader, we're cutting off possibilities for some of our kids and cheating ourselves out of some strong leaders.

The culture of communication is a whole different topic. I went to a women's college for a lot of reasons, one of which was that I didn't want anyone to think I could be minimized. I don't know what the answer is to creating an entire co-ed culture that gives value to all voices and styles. That's why I'm focusing on teaching my individual kids to be leaders, which involves listening to all voices and being specifically inclusive as a technique for discovery and rigor. (If you create an echo chamber, you immediately lower the bar for whatever you're doing.)

Thoughts? What are you doing to foster your kids' strong traits and teach them leadership skills?