“When you tell someone that you’re feeling beat, you’re also sending a message, one that says you’re not fully present, prepared, or alert.”
When I read those words, it reminded me of one of the central tenets of leadership that I hold to: the leader is the motivation battery. Every word you speak and every action you take alters the energy of your team.
A single disheartening word can zap the energy from the room, while just one well-placed comment can motivate your team to do what they previously thought impossible. In essence, you are a cheerleader, albeit sans the pom-poms.
In fact, cheerleading is a skill that all leaders should have, yet one that rarely makes the list when it comes to leadership competencies.
The beginnings of cheerleading can be traced back to the late 1800s, when the “Princeton Cheer” could be heard resounding around sports stands at Princeton University. From there, the phenomenon of organised, vociferous support for sports teams began to spread to other universities across the US, eventually developing into the practice of cheerleading that we have come to know today.
Recently, while reminiscing about my teenage years, I remembered just how important the impact of cheerleaders was on me as an athlete. More than just a spectacle on the sideline, they played a vital role in building team spirit and motivating the players to do their best — and that is exactly the role business leaders should be playing today.
In the business world, people prefer to “motivate” using financial incentives than to “cheerlead” through inspirational leadership. However, what many corporate leaders fail to understand is that cheerleading is much more effective at getting the best out of employees, and infinitely more affordable.
So, in order to gain a little more leadership insight from the practice of cheerleading, let’s explore what exactly it is that cheerleaders do:
First and foremost, as everyone knows, cheerleaders break out in celebration in times of success. They rally the fans every time a touchdown is scored or a basket is made, and they make sure to celebrate the smaller plays too. In many ways, these same tactics are employed by good business leaders — those who quickly build motivation and team spirit when they celebrate the great (and even good) work of their colleagues.
What’s more, celebrating achievement highlights what behaviour a leader expects from the team. In other words, cheerleading is a chance to build motivation and remind everyone of what is important.
Another key role of cheerleaders is encouraging and motivating players when things are not working out as they’d hoped. When times become tough on the court or field, players can rely on them to lift spirits and try to change the tempo of the game.
I don’t recall ever hearing cheerleaders demotivate their teams. I have never heard them shout negative comments or lead fans in cheers about how badly their players are performing. Nor have I ever heard cheerleaders complain about feeling tired.
Perhaps, they know that such behaviour would be demotivating and humiliating. Instead, they encourage their players to stay in the game and focus on winning.
In the office as on the football pitch, employees are usually aware when their performance is sub-par — they don’t need you to point it out. What they need is a leader who lifts them up and encourages them to be the best they can be. Such leaders don’t do this to be kind, they do it because they see it as their responsibility.
Last but not least, cheerleaders do not cheer in isolation, they involve others in supporting their team — and, once again, this behaviour translates perfectly to the business world. Whatever the organisation, business leaders can involve colleagues, customers, employees and even the “big” boss in celebrations, however big or small.
Become a cheerleader. If you want to build your team’s spirit and motivate them to perform at their best, then it’s time to pick up the pom-poms.
— Tommy Weir is the CEO of EMLC Leadership Ai Lab and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at email@example.com.