Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean it’s ok to be bossy.

Leaders from a survey panel of 201 leaders from the United States shared their experiences with the word bossy in the workplace and what it’s like to have a bossy coworker.

Being bossy was seen as showing a lack of interpersonal leadership skills, including:

  • Being directive and controlling
  • Ignoring others’ perspectives
  • Being rude and pushy
  • Micromanaging
  • Focused on power
  • Being aggressive

Bossy coworkers were seen as:

  • Unlikeable
  • Unpopular
  • Unlikely to be successful
  • At risk for career derailment

6 Key Indicators of Bossiness

What does it really mean to be a bossy leader?

In our research, leaders were asked to define the word bossy in their own words. We found substantial agreement among the 201 leaders about what the word “bossy” means, and very few thought the word was positive.

Overall, 6 key indicators of bossiness emerged in the definitions:

We also found that bossiness is a common issue in the workplace:

  • 25% of the leaders surveyed said they’ve been called bossy at work.
  • 92% of the leaders surveyed said they’ve worked with someone bossy.

What to Do About Bossiness

Our findings shed light on what it means to be bossy and suggest that bossiness can hinder promotion and success. Based on our research, we have 2 conclusions for leaders:

  1. Being bossy is not the same as being the boss. Bossy is a lack of interpersonal leadership skills, including being overly directive and controlling, ignoring others’ perspectives, being rude and pushy, micromanaging, focused on power, and being aggressive.
  2. Being bossy can hurt your career. Regardless of gender or status, if you are being bossy, it is probably harming your career. Bossy coworkers are seen as unlikeable, unpopular, and unsuccessful, have derailment risks, and are rated as less promotable by their bosses.

Considering that 1 out of 4 people have been called bossy and nearly everyone has worked with someone they would consider bossy, chances are that bossiness is an issue in your workplace as well.

Strategies for addressing bossiness—both how to be less bossy in the workplace, and how to deal with bossy coworkers—are discussed in this paper.

Download the full paper for more tips, advice, and information on how to be the boss without being bossy.

Additional Contributing Author:

Julia Fernando, BSc, is an intern in Research, Innovation and Product Development at CCL. Recently graduating from an undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Surrey, UK, Julia is embarking on a career in research in the hopes of entering onto a postdoctoral program in the near future. She has a background in clinical psychology, having worked at Great Ormond Street Hospital for children in London as an assistant psychologist in neurodisability. Julia’s research interests primarily focus on the study of workplace diversity and inclusion, particularly in women or employees with developmental or intellectual disabilities. Julia has received a number of grants and awards from the British Psychological Society for her research and has presented at several conferences both in the United Kingdom and United States.

Christine Crumbacher did her post-doctoral work serving as an evaluator for CCL’s Leadership Beyond Boundaries Program, with a concentration in early leadership development projects such as Ravenscroft School and the Golden LEAF Foundation. She contributed as a design and survey developer as well as champion for youth leadership development. Prior to CCL, Christine worked in the statistics lab housed in the Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education at Ohio University. Before completing her PhD, Christine was a high school special education teacher and department chair. She taught inclusion math and science and was a lead teacher for Digital Academy, an online school for students who were expelled, suspended, or home-schooled. She holds a bachelor of science in psychology with a minor in business management and a master’s degree in special education from Wright State University. She completed her PhD in Educational Research and Evaluation at Ohio University, where her dissertation analyzed behaviorally-based interventions and their effectiveness using newer quantitative applications.

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