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Watch your step…

March 11, 2014

Over the past few days I’ve seen some significant buzz concerning the use of the word “bossy” to describe little girls.   The idea is that the word is very negative and shuts down future female leaders who don’t want to be called bossy or disliked.

It’s a valid point.

Truthfully, it’s not a word I’m accustomed to hearing applied to me personally.  I tend to listen more than I speak.  I’m not at all choleric in my design, and I don’t usually feel a need to take charge of things.  I’m a type B introvert, a Melancholy-Phlegmatic, and a recent Meyers-Briggs/Kinsey Temperament Sorter INFJ convert after years of testing as an INTJ.  I’m quite capable and willing to be one of the pack, although if you tell me it’s my doghouse, I’m also quite capable of being the HBIC and yes—I will bark.  But I don’t bark in other people’s doghouses, and I don’t go around looking for a doghouse to commandeer.

It just ain’t my style.

Nevertheless, I rarely park somewhere very long before being offered leadership opportunities. It holds true across most areas of my life.

I didn’t understand that for a very long time because I associated being a leader with being, well, bossy.  Which I’m not.  I associated leadership with being about what a person does, not who a person is.  It never occurred to me that I was invited to leadership because of who I am and how I think and approach life.

But somewhere along the way I began to catch on.  It was, and is, uncomfortable, and I realize that it’s uncomfortable because I’m still sorting out how I feel about being a leader who is more about being than performing.  But it freed me to learn to live a lifestyle of leadership, which is more than having roles or positions.

I also had a major paradigm shift about leadership, one that is still shaking out in my life.  It affects my parenting, my relationships, and frankly, how I do all of life.  And it comes from a golden nugget in the book of Proverbs.

Rabbit trail: Listen…even if you don’t dig the Bible in general (which I do), the book of Proverbs rocks.  All kinds of useful tidbits for how to navigate life without getting your eye shot out.  Who doesn’t need more common sense? Seriously, you should read it.  Google it if you don’t have a Bible.

Anyway, this is how it goes:

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
-Proverbs 14:4

In a nutshell, this is what it means:  you can have abundant growth and production, or you can have a neat and tidy system.  But you really can’t have both.

Oxen are strong.  They pull plows, they pull harvesters, they pull wagons loaded with produce, they work.  But wherever oxen are, there’s poop.  It smells bad, and the oxen step in it and spread it around, and then the folks who are trying to care for the oxen end up with it all over their shoes.  Everyone stinks, because that is the nature of dealing with oxen.  You want an abundant harvest?  Then you gotta give up control.  You gotta give up on the idea of a sanitary manger.

Freedom and creativity mean a lot to me.  You know what happens when people are free to be creative?  Like, really free?  They learn and stretch and grow, and eventually you get to see them at their glorious best, the way God designed them to be, and they will do amazing things.  You know what else happens?  They make messes.  Train wrecks, disasters, spectacles, mountains of ox poop.

If you try to set up a situation in order to limit the mess, you introduce control.  And when you introduce control, you introduce fear.

Nothing kills freedom and creativity faster than fear.

So rather than fearing the mess of ox poop, I am learning to associate it as the precursor for an abundant harvest.  It’s the smell of freedom.

Besides, handled properly, ox poop is excellent fertilizer.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. March 12, 2014 6:44 am

    Reblogged this on saleswatchdog.

  2. March 12, 2014 6:47 am

    Good stuff! I needed this today for a variety of reasons. But, as an INTJ, I appreciate the difference between “bossy” and “firm”. Over the years, I’ve learned to not go charging in and let others sort things out since my inner drive really wants to put things “right.” And I’m a choleric – pretty much I should come with a warning. Like I said, I’ve learned to understand myself and when to use my powers for good and not evil. Um, sometimes.

    • March 12, 2014 8:16 am

      Isn’t that funny? I’ve always tested as an INTJ until about a year and a half ago when I began testing as an INFJ, which really is subtly more accurate. But in spite of us having that same basic makeup, I’m incredibly non-choleric. Unless that doghouse thing. ;)

    • March 12, 2014 8:17 am

      I also really like the differentiation between bossy and firm. Or authoritarian and authoritative.

  3. March 12, 2014 10:29 am

    Excellent post. Your comparison to the proverb of the Ox is inspired and has me thinking.
    I’ve been balancing my feeling about fairness, feminism, Sheryl Sandberg and her Lean In campaign, privilege and prejudice for some time. Listening to Sandberg’s TED talk and her book (i listened to it as an audiobook) rekindled the conversation in my household – or at least provided a framework for it. We already live in a fairly unique position where my wife is the primary bread-winner, while I have been at home writing and working as an adjunct instructor. So, naturally, we don’t fall into the standard stereotype of an American home.

    As a type-A personality executive, my wife often faces the threat of being perceived as ‘bossy’ in her workplace when she asserts herself or her ideas aggressively.

    As a type- … well, whatever is opposite of type-A – personality living in Kansas, I face a lot of strange looks and assumptions when people see my position as well.

    Neither of us fit the molds society expects for us. Yet, there’s something that really needles me about Sandberg’s argument. Am I just jealous of her success? Am I just glum about my own position and looking for someone to blame?
    Why is it when I listen to her talk about the difficulties of achieving success as a woman, do I immediately feel irritated by the fact that she does not recognize the privilege from which she comes?
    (Harvard College- Summa cum laude, Economics, Harvard Business School-MBA, $1B net worth, Her father is an ophthalmologist; her mother a PhD French teacher – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2286584/Facebooks-Sheryl-Sandberg-teen-aerobics-instructor-COO–stop-White-House.html )

    ‘But she does recognize it,’ you say. ‘Right at the beginning of her book.’
    ‘OK. Sure,’ I answer, unwilling to fight, but unconvinced. Perhaps my milquetoast response explains something in itself.

    So, I remain: A believer in the equal rights and status of women. A happy partner to a successful woman. Quietly resentful of the third highest paid woman in the world (http://money.cnn.com/2014/01/22/technology/facebook-sandberg-billionaire/) arguing about inequitable compensation.

    I’m so conflicted.
    (Not only that, I realize I am hardly commenting on your post, but what it makes me think about.)

    • March 12, 2014 10:40 am

      You know, I really love these kinds of comments. I like knowing that my thinking inspires other people to think their own thoughts, even if they don’t come to the same conclusions. In fact, that is pretty much what this post was–my thoughts about leadership, inspired by someone else’s thoughts about bossiness.

      I also like your non-traditional marriage and lifestyle, and that you and your wife have been creative enough to ditch tradition to find a more workable model of life for your family. :)

  4. March 13, 2014 8:26 am

    The analogy of working with oxen and being a leader is unusual but I do see your point. I can’t say that I’m one to jump into the poop, at least not right away. I let someone else jump in to handle things, but if they need help or are just making more of a mess of things, I’ll jump in reluctantly.

    • March 13, 2014 8:29 am

      God wires every person differently, each of us uniquely fitted and formed. :)

  5. March 13, 2014 5:15 pm

    Great post! Unfortunately too many people in leadership get “hung up” in the “control” aspects of leadership and kill productivity and creativity. The world needs to clone you. :D

    • March 13, 2014 8:09 pm

      Ha! The world doesn’t know what to do with ONE of me!

  6. March 13, 2014 9:03 pm

    Awesome article.

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