Who’s the Boss?


I can be a bit of a bossy-britches. I blame it on birth order. I’ve always loved being in charge. While I was more forceful in this quest as a kid, I’ve since learned to lead with {more} grace.

The other night, I was volunteering at a charity event. Five of us were in the kitchen heating appetizers and slicing fruit for a cocktail party. Various foodstuffs needed to be cooked at various temperatures for various lengths of time. While the other volunteers stood back and waited for someone to give orders, I stepped up. I quickly had us churning out eggrolls, quiche, and pizza. I had timers set and people moving. It felt awesome. The kitchen was humming, party guests were having fun, and our combined efforts were for a common good.

At the start of my kitchen take-over, however, I kept tripping over apologies. “I’m sorry! I’m not trying to be bossy!” I’d assure my fellow volunteers as I as I set them work. My inner leader was at war with my inner starved-popular-kid-who-wants-everyone-to-love-her.

But why? Couldn’t I be both?

I thought about how I was asking people to help. I focused on asking rather than telling (e.g., “Could you please put these on a platter?” rather than, “You! Platter! Now!”), and I made sure it was obvious I was working hard as well – not just delegating tasks so I could faff off. With a permanent smile, I collected used plates and dirty napkins, refilled drinks, and kept the appetizers cycling. 

It is, indeed, possible to be a like-able {graceful} leader.

In addition to being self-aware and kind, it’s important to know when to be a leader and when to be a follower. In the kitchen the other night, putting order to potential chaos came naturally to me. I thrive on being at the center of all that activity. I felt empowered and knew I was helping to get the job done.

In other cases, though, I’ve had to repress my desire to take over and just follow. Doing so is against my natural inclinations and very difficult for me. However – as hard as it can be for me to admit – I don’t always know the best way to get things accomplished. I often view this lack of knowledge as a weakness. Instead, I should focus my energies on being a good follower. Being a good follower is not equivalent with being passive or disengaged. Followers in general are crucial to getting the job done and good followers may even notice ways to improve the process. While, for me, following takes some amount of humility, it’s important to be able to play both roles.


About Helena

Helena lives in Chicago with her boyfriend and two cats. Her boyfriend thinks she's awesome. Her cats agree.

Posted on April 29, 2011, in Who I Am and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. What an interesting and inspiring blog! This blog caught my attention in particular because I recently did a week-long leadership course and dealt with this very issue. Well, in fact the opposite issue – we all wanted to be followers initially and not step on anyone’s toes. The problem with this is that nothing gets done! It’s necessary to have a leader but the best leaders are open to input from others and able to step aside when needed. It’s a very fine art but one worth cultivating. Look forward to future posts!

    • Thanks!
      Leading/following can be a struggle for me because it’s hard not to feel like you are “stepping on someone’s toes” or bossing someone around. That’s why I’m trying to focus on tone of voice and leading by example.

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