By Alison Stanton

Have you ever noticed that when a boy sticks up for himself or takes over on a project in school, he is called “assertive” or “a leader,” but when girls do the same thing they are often labeled not-so-nice terms like “bossy” or “aggressive”?

This all-too-common phenomenon may cause you to raise your hand less in class, apologize before asking a question and/or letting others take the lead in group projects—even when you know the topic really well.

If these situations don’t seem fair, you are definitely correct. Fortunately, you don’t have to undermine your intelligence by staying in the background—you have what it takes to be a leader every day. Check out the following tips and ideas:

Speak with Confidence

As notes (1), girls can often undermine themselves when they talk, and you might not realize you are doing it. Instead of using phrases like “I’m not sure if this is right, but…” when answering a question in class and “I’m sorry but I don’t get this math problem,” try hard to eliminate these words from your everyday talk. Role play with your friends, a trusted adult or even your family dog and practice asking for help from your teacher and answering questions in a confident way.

Find Ways to Challenge Yourself

Another great way to be a leader is to get out of your comfort zone now and then. As Ban Bossy notes (2), when you worry about failing at something, you usually stick with experiences where you know you can succeed. This also means that you will miss out on proving to yourself, and others too, that you have what it takes to learn new things. Talk to your parents about signing up for a sport that you’ve always wanted to try but wasn’t sure you could do, or introduce yourself to some kids at school who you don’t know.

Listen to Your Inner Voice

Have you ever noticed that little voice in your head telling you things like “you should really be doing your book report instead of going to the mall” or “this girl doesn’t seem like she should be trusted—don’t tell her any secrets”? Most of the time, your inner voice is totally correct, and it is your gut feeling telling you the truth about different situations. When you are worried about what people think, you might ignore your inner voice and do what others want you to do. As a leader, it’s important to stay connected to your inner self and if something does not feel right to you, do not do it.

Take on More Responsibility

Another great way to become a leader is to look for opportunities to practice your leadership skills. Set up a neighborhood lemonade stand to raise money for a local animal rescue, start a babysitting business and get paid to watch the neighbors’ kids, and/or become more active in taking care of your family pets’ care. Once you start looking for them, you will see that leadership opportunities are everywhere.

You Can Do It!

Once you realize what is holding you back from becoming a leader, and look for ways to become more confident and assertive, it will soon feel more natural for you to speak up and be heard. You’ve got this!