“I have always been the person who could do my own work AND be there for others. I have always exceeded expectations and now I can’t even get through the basics,” said Mary in tears. After a recent exciting promotion, Mary felt liked she was no longer coping.

If you were always the “good girl” growing up, perhaps even the “over-achieving good girl” you might recognize Mary’s words.

The “good girl” is the girl who, growing up, does what she is told to do. She does her home work, she listens to teachers and parents. She is a delight to have around because she is responsible and can be relied upon.

The “good girl” thrives on being perfect or better than perfect. The perfection-measure keeps moving upwards and she never feels like she has achieved enough.

But when the “good girl” suddenly can’t keep up appearances, the pretty picture crumples. The trigger can be promotions, feelings of too many expectations, increased work load etc. Suddenly the strategy of just-work-harder, sacrifice myself and my needs and please everyone while putting on a smile can no longer be executed. The results? Overflowing emotions, tears before and after work, maybe tears in meetings, defensiveness, depression, disconnection. Basically the shadow side of the “overachieving good girl”.

In its purity the “good girl” personality doesn’t lend itself to sustainable leadership. So although the “good girl” might get promoted, she will likely crack – sometimes very visibly and sometimes slowly on the inside, just beating away at herself as she tries to keep up appearances. Unless she makes some changes…

Thankfully it is possible to shift a few key habits which in turn can make former “good girls” brilliant leaders.

Let’s return to Mary. Her usual survival technique was to just work harder. But she was cracking at the seams. Harder wasn’t possible anymore.

Mary was super scared to let go of her current success strategies, but desperate enough to see that she needed to start making changes.

She could see that the strategies that had gotten her to her current place of success were not going to get her to the next level of leadership. In fact if she kept approaching life and work in the same way as she had until now, she would soon be at her doctor’s office asking for a sick note because of burnout and stress.

Below are the five areas we worked on in the following months.

Exercise: 5 “good girl” habits to shift if you want to become a strong leader, who can add value AND look after yourself

1. CHECK OUT THOSE EXPECTATIONS: If you are like Mary, you have a tendency to always increase expectations and feel like you have to deliver everything to higher than highest quality. Ask yourself: are those expectations imaginary or real? And check them out with your colleagues and boss. Yes, I mean it. Go ask them.

We all interpret what we hear and it is a good habit to go back and check what the other person really expects, by when and what good really looks like. You will also need to learn about “good enough” which is probably a swear word to you if you are a true “good girl”. Take a deep breath. Figuring out what good enough looks like on various tasks, will save your sanity and allow you to be a leader for the long run, instead of drowning in unrealistic expectations.

2. ALLOW FOR HELP AND BALANCE YOUR GIVING AND RECEIVING: Are you always giving, giving giving, helping, helping, helping? Over-achieving good girls have a tendency to love to help others but feel super uncomfortable about asking for help. Why is that?

When we give we feel good. We have deposited on the relationship bank balance. We are in plus on the account. We feel good and almost innocent. When we ask for help and receive help we withdraw from the emotional bank balance. That can make us feel indebted, like we are owing someone something.

But only giving and always having a big plus on the relationship bank account is unsustainable. To be a great leader you need others to help, you need to be able to receive.

And – if you are still not convinced that this makes sense – then look at what you are doing to other people. If you always want to be the over-giver, then they constantly feel indebted to you. How do you think that affects your relationship with them?

3. LEARN TO SAY NO: The more you say YES, the more people will assume your YES. They will start taking it for granted and not appreciated it. Saying NO means having boundaries. It means protecting yourself, but also your people and they key priorities. Saying NO the unimportant stuff allows you to have energy and availability for the important stuff.

And as a bonus – people respect leaders who have boundaries.

4. WHAT HAVE YOU MADE YOUR SELF ESTEEM DEPENDENT ON: Where is your self esteem really? In positive feedback or in you? Mary didn’t know if she would be worth anything if she couldn’t meet her deadlines and help her colleagues. Her feelings about herself were dependent on her deliveries to other people. So when she couldn’t meet or exceed other people’s expectations she started feeling worthless.

Self esteem has to come from inside. From yourself. Don’t let it be dependent on other people. If this is an area where you are weak, seek some expert help now to start learning how to compliment yourself, how to feel good in yourself without getting compliments. The higher in the hierarchy you want to go, the less compliments you will get. Learn to build your self esteem from the inside out today.

5. STOP SACRIFICING AND ADOPT THE ART OF EXTREME SELF CARE: Learn to put yourself first. When you burn out, you have nothing to give to your work, your family and friends. It is in no one’s interest that you crack at the seams. But it is up to you to set boundaries and look after you. No one else can or will do that. Don’t wait for permission. Permission is granted now!

The reason why I add the word Extreme is because it has a better success rate with my clients actually hearing what I am saying. The word Extreme makes them listen better.

Extreme self care means starting with the basics like getting the sleep you need, taking breaks during the day, getting fresh air, eating regular healthy meals to feed your brain, your body and your soul. Taking holidays, having fun and having time where you are not looking after anyone.

It means time to re-fuel.

It is the only way you can continue being there for others in your life and work. It’s the only way you be a long-term leader.

If you want help with working on stepping from out-dated good girl habits to useful power woman strategies, get in touch at noomi@noominatan.com and we can have an informal chat.

Have you made the shift from good girl to leader? What did you have to change in your habits as you did?

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