Bosses vs. Leaders Lesson + Freebies

We are a Leader In Me School and talk a lot about using the 7 Habits of Happy Kids in our everyday lives. I love the idea of encouraging kids to act as leaders in the classroom and beyond. What I have noticed, however, is that sometimes "leadership" comes off as "bossypants" and that is not the route we want to take!

I know you've probably heard of Sheryl Sandberg (of Facebook fame) and her campaign to end the word "bossy" (read or listen to an NPR story HERE), but I was hesitant to come straight out and use that word in our class. Instead, I wanted them to think on terms of "boss" and "leader" to recognize the differences between the two and to think about their own language choices in the classroom, in small groups, on their sports teams, and more.

We first looked at this picture and talked about what we noticed:
This led to some discussion about leadership versus boss behavior. While the kids were discussing, I was passing out example cards to their table spots. Before I dismissed them, I shared this leadership quote from John Quincy Adams:

They were then given instructions about our activity.

I had printed example cards on two colors: blue for boss and green for leader (although they didn't know that yet) and they needed to read their card and find someone with an opposite color card and opposite example (good time to incorporate the word antonym, too!).

I dismissed them to their tables and first had them converse with students in their table group to ensure they understood the word or phrase on their card. When they gave me the thumbs up, I told them to find their match and them meet to discuss why they went together and be able to give examples.

We then began assembling our Anchor Chart. Each pair would come to the front of the class and would explain which card was descriptive of a "boss" and which was descriptive of a "leader" and why. They gave examples and I elicited a lot of help from the classroom for additional examples and language that both a boss and leader may use during that example. I would tape the cards to the Anchor Chart and we continued through each pair. There were two groups of three (with two leaders to one boss) and that worked out perfectly with my class (definitely feel free to adjust if you have lower numbers). 

Our completed anchor chart looked like:

It was so powerful to see how often kids may think they are helping, but instead find themselves on the "boss" side of the chart instead of the "leader." I know several of the examples are repetitive, but we really talked through these and used examples from our own lives to recount when using "leader" words and language set us up for success. I also explained the "me vs. you" mentality of bosses versus the "we and us" mentality of leaders. 

Overall, it was a very powerful lesson and I look forward to referring back to this Anchor Chart this year, especially when "bossypants" behavior leads to conflict. I think these concrete examples can help guide the naturally strong leaders in my class to make better language decisions that can help grow them as leaders and really inspire others, just like the Adams quote!

If you'd like a copy of these cards and quote, you can download this as a *freebie* HERE. How do you address bossy vs. leader behavior in your class? Share in the comments, I would love to build on this lesson!


  1. This is a great lesson! Thanks SO much for sharing!

  2. I love how concrete you make this concept for the kids! Thank you for sharing this! In these situations, I usually talk to kids to help them articulate what they were trying to do in the situation (since it's generally with the best of intentions) about how their words/actions were interpreted by classmates. Then, we talk about other ways of approaching the situation and words to use to help them be more successful in what they were trying to do in a way that's better for everyone.

  3. This is a wonderful lesson idea, and it comes just in time as I've just assigned different class roles to my students! :)

  4. What a great post! We head back to school for a new year next week and will be doing this with my new class

  5. What a FANTASTIC lesson! Very interesting how the students can understand this concept, yet some adults may need a course in this! :) Definitely saving this for a Back to School/First week activity.

    Fishing for Education Blog

  6. Thank you so much for this resource and lesson idea! I am eager to do this lesson in my class!!!

  7. Wow! What a great way to teach kids this concept! I love you you have the kids moving and interacting. You're amazing!

  8. We did this today with our 4th and 6th grader (homeschool). We added to it with how does a boss make you feel/affect your performance as a team member vs. how does a leader make you feel/affect your performance as a team member. We also talked about how team member behavior affects the head and the other team members and the need to build trust/have an environment of trust for ultimate team success. Leadership skills is one of the things we're really working on this year, to perhaps leave the bossy pants folded and put away. Thank you so much for the printables, they were a great jumping-off point.

  9. WOW! I love your activity!! thanks and keep sharing!

  10. This is a great lesson! I teach sixth grade and plan to try this out with them on Monday. Thanks for sharing!

  11. I was just put in charge of our elementary student council. I wanted to have an activity that expressed leadership qualities, I found it in this lesson. Thank you so much for all you have shared.

  12. I love this lesson. So glad I stumbled upon it! Thanks for sharing.