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Unleashing Authentic Leadership: Breaking Free from Good Girl Conditioning

One thing I remember clearly about all my jobs before I became self-employed was the common themes of feeling out of place, being constantly told I need boundaries, being more confident/assertive and not sounding so apologetic when asking people to do things. I would ensure that all my emails came across as friendly and not too direct. I would hide my frustration and anger when I could see a more efficient/time-saving way of doing something, but I had to at least attempt to stay within the prescribed ‘process’. I would sit around waiting for someone to recognise the good job I am doing and reward me for it. I would be constantly trying to navigate the tightrope of likeability and credibility while constantly falling off it. Undermining both.

Looking back now I see that this was all my Good Girl Conditioning. It was completely getting in the way of me getting my job done effectively.

From a young age, many of us are conditioned to be "Good Girls" – to be polite, avoid conflict, and seek approval. While these qualities can be valuable in some aspects of life, they can also have a profound impact on us at work and how we lead.

As we step into leadership roles, clinging to these ingrained behaviours can hinder our ability to make tough decisions, set clear boundaries, and navigate conflicts effectively. Authentic leadership requires a shift away from the Good Girl Conditioning towards a more assertive, decisive approach that prioritises the well-being of the team and the organisation as a whole. This transformation not only empowers us as leaders but also fosters a more dynamic and productive work environment, where open communication and innovation can thrive.

But please remember, Good Girl Conditioning is not a lack of self-confidence, self-belief or self-love; it’s a way we’ve been trained (literally from birth) to be kind, look good, be nice, stay quiet, take care of everyone else... The list goes on, and at the heart of it all, one message shines through: Do as you're told or pay the price.

Recognising and deprogramming from these deeply ingrained patterns is a powerful act of self-liberation. It’s a reclaiming of our autonomy, a declaration that our voice matters, and an affirmation that setting boundaries is an act of self-respect, not defiance. As we shed the layers of Good Girl Conditioning, we unveil a more authentic and empowered version of ourselves, ready to lead with confidence and compassion.

In this blog, we'll explore how Good Girl Conditioning can affect your leadership and, more importantly, how you can break free from it to become an authentic and effective leader.

1. Decision-Making - The desire to be seen as agreeable and avoid rocking the boat can lead to hesitant decision-making.

Authentic leaders make decisions based on what's best for the team and the organisation, not just to please others. Overcoming Good Girl Conditioning means recognising the importance of decisive leadership.

Consider these actions -

The initial step involves recognising any tendency towards people-pleasing in decision-making. Take time to reflect on past instances where you might have hesitated in making a decision due to a desire to please others. Understand that authentic leadership requires making decisions based on what's best for your team and the organisation, even if it means facing potential disagreements or pushback.

Reflection questions

  1. Can you recall a specific situation where you hesitated in making a decision because you wanted to avoid conflict or gain approval?

  2. What were the circumstances surrounding that decision? (e.g., the people involved, the nature of the decision, the potential consequences)

  3. How did you feel in that moment of hesitation? Did you experience any internal conflict or discomfort? Were there any underlying fears or anxieties that contributed to your hesitation? (e.g., fear of rejection, fear of being perceived as assertive, fear of disappointing others)

2. Communication - Good Girls often downplay their opinions and can avoid coming across as “too” assertive. This tendency, rooted in the conditioning to prioritise others' comfort over our own, can inadvertently hinder effective communication in leadership roles.

It's crucial to recognize that assertiveness is not synonymous with aggression, but rather a vital skill for expressing thoughts and ideas with clarity and confidence, fostering a more productive and harmonious work environment. Embracing this shift in communication style empowers leaders to lead authentically and inspire their teams towards greater success.

In leadership, effective communication is paramount. Learning to express your thoughts and ideas confidently and clearly is a key step in becoming an authentic leader.

Consider these actions - Begin by recognising and acknowledging any tendencies to downplay your opinions or avoid assertiveness. Reflect on instances where you may have held back in communication due to a fear of appearing "too" assertive.

Challenge the underlying beliefs or conditioning that lead to this behaviour. Understand that expressing your thoughts and ideas assertively is a crucial aspect of effective leadership rather than a sign of being overly aggressive or assertive.

Reflection questions

  1. Can you remember a specific situation where you consciously chose to downplay your opinion or hold back in communication? What were the circumstances surrounding that situation?

  2. How did you feel in that moment of holding back? Were there any internal conflicts or discomfort that you experienced?

  3. What were the underlying beliefs or conditioning that influenced your decision to downplay your opinion? Were there any specific fears or anxieties at play?

3. Conflict - Conflict is a natural part of leadership, but for those conditioned to avoid it at all costs, this can be challenging.

Authentic leaders understand that conflicts, when managed constructively, are opportunities for growth and innovation. They approach disagreements with a solution-oriented mindset, seeking to find common ground and build stronger, more resilient teams. Embracing conflict as a catalyst for positive change allows leaders to navigate challenges with grace and lead their teams towards greater success.


Consider these actions - Recognise that conflict is a natural and inevitable aspect of leadership and team dynamics. Understand that conflicts can lead to better solutions, increased understanding, and team growth when managed effectively. Shift your mindset to view conflict as an opportunity for positive change and improvement rather than something to be avoided or feared.

Reflection questions

  1. Can you think about a specific instance of conflict within your team or organisation? How did you initially perceive and respond to this conflict?

  2. What were your initial emotions and thoughts when faced with this conflict? Did you view it as a problem to be solved or as something to be avoided?

  3. Have there been instances where a fear of conflict prevented you from addressing important issues or expressing your perspective? What impact did this have on the team dynamic?

4. Perfectionism - Fear of making mistakes or taking risks can stifle innovation. Perfectionism is one of the biggest challenges for “Good Girls” as striving for perfection is something we’ve been trained to attempt to achieve.

This pursuit of flawlessness can lead to paralysis and hinder progress. Authentic leaders recognize that embracing imperfection is not a sign of weakness, but a powerful driver of creativity and growth. They encourage their teams to take calculated risks, learn from mistakes, and cultivate an environment where innovation and creative thinking thrives. By letting go of the need for perfection, leaders pave the way for breakthroughs and transformative change.

Consider these actions -

Foster an environment where experimentation and taking calculated risks are not only accepted but encouraged. Create a safe space for team members to try new approaches, knowing that their efforts will be valued and supported, regardless of the outcome. This can be done through open communication, constructive feedback, and celebrating small wins along the way.

Reflection questions

  1. Can you recall a time when you tried something new or took a calculated risk in your work or personal life? What was the outcome, and what did you learn from the experience?

  2. How do you typically react to the idea of trying out new approaches or methods in your work? Do you feel a sense of excitement, curiosity, or hesitation? What might be influencing your response?

  3. Have you ever felt discouraged from trying something different due to a fear of making mistakes or facing potential challenges? What were the specific concerns or thoughts that held you back?

Strategies for Authentic Leadership

It’s important to be self-aware. Start by recognising when Good Girl Conditioning influences your actions and decisions. You can do so by taking the Good Girl Quiz. You’ll get a handy report of all the areas that could do with some reflection.

Becoming an authentic leader means breaking free from the constraints of Good Girl Conditioning. It's a journey that requires self-awareness, courage, and a commitment to personal growth. By embracing your authentic self, you can lead with clarity, purpose, and effectiveness, inspiring both yourself and your team to achieve greater heights.

Recognising and deprogramming from these patterns empowers us, unveiling a more authentic and empowered version of ourselves. This transformation not only benefits us as leaders but also fosters a dynamic and productive work environment, where open communication and innovation flourish.

Breaking free from Good Girl Conditioning is a step towards self-liberation. It's about prioritising your well-being and that of the team and the organisation. It's saying, "My voice matters, and my boundaries are important."

About Michelle

Michelle Minnikin is a chartered organisational psychologist, coach and author of Good Girl Deprogramming (out Nov 2023). Michelle draws on 20+ years of leadership and organisational development, employee selection and assessment, coaching and personal development within corporates, public sector organisations and SMEs.

Get in touch to talk about Good Girl Deprogramming, coaching, talks and programmes -

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