“When the Women of HR idea first started, someone innocently used the word, “sassy” to describe the tone we should set. I didn't agree. What do you think? Let's continue the conversation.”
“That new CEO is so smart! And says what’s on his mind – consequences be damned! And ambitious! And irreverent! We love his sassy ways.”
If you notice something odd, it might be that it’s unusual to use “sassy” as an adverb for a male CEO’s actions. I’d argue that we generally assume “sassy” only applies to the actions of women, gay men, people of color, or others seen as outside the traditional power structure.
The word “sassy” is defined here as “improperly forward or bold” and Merriam-Webster defines it as “impudent.” As someone who plans to lead companies, the word “sassy” says “Please don’t take me seriously. I'm passive-aggressive and use humor as a way to avoid responsibility. I will never have power, or be very effective at influencing those who have power, but I will certainly be smart mouthed about your decisions, as ineffectual as my wit may be.” If people are calling you sassy, my guess is that you have a lot of coworkers to commiserate with at the bar after work, but you are not in line to be CEO.
Women of HR, don’t be sassy – be scary and own your power. Does scary mean Fatal Attraction scary? Hell no. It means listening and speaking truthfully, owning your actions, taking risks, and showing courage. Think Oprah. Or Martha. If you want a seat at the table, call the meeting, sit at the head of the table, tell them what’s going on and what you think you can do together to help make things great. If you’re right, and can influence your peers to act on your input, you will have a deep impact on your company.
Sassy doesn’t help anyone do anything but blow off steam. No one is going to give you influence and power. Go out and grab it by being competent, astute, deeply networked, and realistic about the world around you. Being a change agent means sticking your neck out, taking a stand, weathering controversy, and being willing to be seen as a threat to the status quo.
You can be great, amazing, positive, even irreverent – but not sassy. At least not often. If we don’t take our role, our influence, and our power seriously, no one else will. We owe it to our communities and our companies to choose scary over sassy.
Photo credit iStockphoto
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