Why we’re taught to be good and how it impacts coaching
“Have you been a good girl or boy for Santa?”
Remember being asked this question when you were a child? Do you ask this of your children? Why? Only good girls and boys get a visit from Santa and get what they ask Santa for. The children’s song ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ says it all.
It sounds like an innocent question to ask. What’s that got to do with coaching or anything?
Beware of the consequences for a life time. A life time of the inner voice telling us we have to be good. To be good is to be liked. To be good is to belong and be accepted. To be good is to please others. To be good is to not rock the boat.
A deep fear of rejection drives us. We respond by complying. We stay safe through inaction or choosing to be conservative. We show up playing small. We lose our own voice and give up our power. We deny our own aspirations.
Shaping our behaviour
We know that not being good has negative consequences. It is in the look or the tone when someone says “have you been a good girl or boy?”. Or it can be more overt, in an almost blackmailing way “if you are not good then …”. Not being good means Santa won’t come. Not being good means being shunned and/or having no friends. We are only okay, worthwhile, safe or secure as the good one. Not being good means we are nothing (in our own heads, at least) … our identity no longer exists – “who am I if I am not good?” In our formative years for many of us, being a good girl or boy gets reinforced by rewards, by presents, by emotional warmth, by love, by all the things that make us feel that we belong, are wanted and safe.
This can be so strongly reinforced that it carries into adulthood, into our lives as leaders. So much so that it is unconsciously entrenched in our “inner game”. It becomes our self-worth.
Why we comply
In Bob Anderson’s and Bill Adam’s chronicle on Reactive Leadership, one of the three Reactive tendencies they identify is the heart type or the complying type. Their research published in their new book, Mastering Leadership, shows that “Complying, to a greater extent than other forms of reactivity (Controlling, Protecting), greatly reduces both Leadership Effectiveness and Business Performance”.
Many senior executives and small business owners I coach over emphasise complying. The strong need to please and to belong drive their behaviour and block their ability to achieve their life goals and perform full out. As we explore together, more often than not, these needs emanate from childhood where to be good is to be rewarded. For some leaders, the desire to be good paralyses them from taking courageous steps, from having needed difficult conversations, from asserting their own thinking and views and from delivering desired outcomes for themselves and their teams.
A healthy balance
Some of you may think that I’m suggesting it is ok to be bad, rude, destructive or break the law. Far from it.
Having a healthy dose of Complying has many great gifts. At their best, Complying types are highly effective relating to others – sensitive to others needs and emotions, loyal, responsible, respecting traditions, being of service to others, and more. However, over play of Complying brings significant liabilities.
Imagine a world where being told to be a good girl or a good boy is not a way to coerce desired behaviour in our children. Imagine what leadership could be like for each of us if we were not subject to the inner voice pulling us towards the dark side of overplayed Complying. Imagine an environment where we have the freedom to create and innovate without the fear of being rejected. Imagine …
What conversations will you have with your children and with others around you to break this cycle of Complying and release them and ourselves from its grip?