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  • Writer's pictureHannah E Greenwood

Let go of the 'Good Girl' and voice your truth

We had local elections last week in the UK. Like many others, I can be sceptical about the integrity and effectiveness of politicians in my country, particularly in the aftermath of the dreadful failure of leadership from Boris Johnson, UK Prime Minister 2019-2022. Johnson openly and gleefully celebrated his ability to lie and get away with the lie until, after many scandals, including ‘Partygate’ during the Covid lockdowns, he was finally ousted from office for condoning a MP accused of serious sexual misconduct. His attitude had a significant impact on the behaviour of others who would emulate his example. I would frequently hear: ‘If Boris Johnson can get away with it, so can I.’ i.e. if our leaders don’t care about being positive role-models and behaving with integrity, then why should the rest of us do other than go for a quick fix, short-termist option, based on immediate and disregarding gratification?


My field is Leadership, and I am passionate about it. Leadership is about the use of power. In itself power is neither good nor bad, it is simply an energy. It’s how we use this energy that determines if it is a force to enhance life or harm it. The more power we have, the greater the impact for good or ill this force will have.


Many years ago, someone described my ‘Life Purpose’ as bringing ‘light and joy...i.e. hope… into the heart of darkness’. His words deeply resonated: I’ve always had a strong sense of purpose, but it had taken until that moment when he named it to be fully awake to what it was. And I soon realised this could not be neatly compartmentalised into my professional life. It included all of me and it made sense of the choices and actions I’d made all my life and subsequently began to make consciously. Synchronistically, this happened around the time I was asked: ‘What makes your heart sing?’ I call this question the most dangerous question in the world. It’s a beautiful question in itself as it encourages us to embrace the love, passion and joy already present in our life. What makes it so dangerous is that it invites a helicopter vision of all aspects of our life: where our heart is singing and where it isn’t.


And this is why this question: ‘Is my heart singing?’ is so radical. If our heart isn’t singing, it demands the following questions, ‘Why?’ and ‘What do I need to change in me and/or my life so that it sings joyfully?’ These are not self-indulgent, individualistic questions. For those with power, and I include parents here, how we are in ourselves has a huge impact on others: and the more power we have, the greater that impact will be.


In terms of leadership: if the essence of leadership is establishing loyalty and followership, the key task of a leader is to bring hope, the promise of a better future leading us out of times of adversity and onto even greater success. This includes our strategic vision of course, but it is also about our passion and positive energy, motivating and encouraging others to stretch to their highest potential. And this is perhaps the greatest challenge for the individual and for the leader: we cannot inspire others authentically i.e., with integrity, if we are not feeling inspired and full of hope ourselves.


The best leaders are also change agent leaders. It’s not enough to see and know what’s wrong in a situation and talk vaguely about hope and a better future. Leaders need to use their power wisely and create the right conditions to ensure the necessary change happens, including whatever changes they need to address in themselves.


It's no coincidence my life’s work has been leadership in varying forms. I used to think this was because I’ve always wanted to make a positive difference and create meaningful change … I still do…but I now know that, at a deeper, unconscious level, it was because that smart little girl in me instinctively wanted to do something about being on the receiving end of inappropriate use of power. Our purpose is shaped by our life experiences and my passion for leadership…surely the heart of great light or darkness… comes from experiencing,  and also witnessing, the harmful use of power.


I’ve been reflecting on the connection between my focus on leadership, finding the courage to speak and act wisely on our truth, and the ‘Good Girl’ syndrome, which is the epitome of the dutiful follower. I first touched on this internal conundrum a few years ago:


Like many women, I grew up ‘playing small’, trying to be a good girl, focusing on empathy and listening and shying away from speaking my ‘voice’, my inner truth. And yet, paradoxically, I have always wanted to make a positive difference to the world, to change it for the better. So, despite my ‘good girl’ intentions, my voice would not be silenced for too long. I wasted a lot of energy over many years trying to reconcile this internal conundrum: how to stay safely under the radar and yet how to voice my inner truth.


In a recent article, I wrote about a women’s workshop I had given in which we had explored further this concept of the ‘Good Girl’:

 ‘As the women on the retreat last week explored this concept of the ‘Good Girl’, three key aspects emerged:

Good girls are expected to give but not receive.

Good girls can cry but they must not feel or show anger.

Good girls do not listen to their inner truth…their intuition…and consequently learn to doubt themselves, which is manifested in over-apologising and low self-worth.

It’s no coincidence we talked about the ‘good girl’ as the block and what we need to let go of. She is what keeps us in the darkness. She was born knowing how to listen to her intuition, her inner voice, but at some point, the voices of others took over and she stopped listening to herself and began to doubt her own truth. She would initially fight back and be a ‘bad’ girl but that was still reacting to others and not listening to what was healthy and right for herself. Eventually she swallowed the messages, and the judgmental voices became internalised into what is psychologically called the ‘Critical Parent’. This cynical inner voice has the good girl in a tight grip. The two are inextricably dependant on each other for their existence.


Over the last few weeks, I’ve been digging deeper into the third point, namely not listening to our inner truth…our intuition…and consequently learning to doubt ourselves, which is manifested in over-apologising and low self-worth.


It was soon after those two key moments, i.e. the naming of my purpose and my heart sing question, that I began to be asked to speak publicly. People wanted to hear my voice, not only have me listen to them. A family member complained at this time: ‘You’ve always been such a great listener. Why do you have to talk as well?’


It's an astonishing comment but women being silenced is age old. I was powerfully reminded of this last week, when I went to see the brilliant film: C’é Ancora Domani (There’s Still Tomorrow) directed and starring Paola Cortellesi. It is set in post war Rome, late 1940s, and it is a shocking and ultimately inspirational film about the many ways women are silenced, including how we can silence ourselves.


In my lifetime there has been an exponential trajectory of women in numbers becoming empowered. When asked in which era would I have liked to have been born, I always say when I was. Any time earlier would have been a very different story. Of course there’s still a long way to go, but we see women speaking up and creating positive changes all over the world.


So, despite my scepticism, did I vote in the local elections? Absolutely! I might question the motives of some of our politicians, but I never forget how precious it is that I have the right to vote and to express my voice.


Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood






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