Are You a Cheerleader for Yourself or for Your Team?

It’s been several years ago, but I was chided for being a cheerleader. The context was that I kept boasting about how good our people were in our organization, and I think the comment was intended to be derogatory in nature. Whatever the intent, the comment stuck with me, and has helped me think about what it means to be a leader who is also a cheerleader.

The very definition of a cheerleader is someone who is an enthusiastic and vocal supporter, whether that’s literally leading cheers for the spectators, or encouraging the team at work to give it their all. In both cases, cheerleaders want the team to win. Right?

In the most literal sense, the goal of any college or professional athlete is to help his or her team win the championship game at the end of the season. It takes dedication, strength, and teamwork to get to that point. Yet, in recent years, I would argue, sports have focused more than ever before on outstanding individual performances, helped in no small way by the media. Sports figures can rarely avoid the spotlight. So when athletes have microphones shoved at them and are asked questions, they have an opportunity to exhibit a key leadership trait. They can brag and boast about their personal accomplishments, they can criticize another team and its players, or they can make sure that everyone on the team gets the credit he or she deserves.

Ponder Richard Sherman in 2013 and the Seattle Seahawks’ 23-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, a game in which Sherman made the pivotal game-sealing tip. Afterward the game, Sherman unloaded on Fox Sports reporter Erin Andrews, declaring himself the premier cornerback in the league and trashing 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree.

Compare this self-congratulatory spiel to Peyton Manning’s interview after the Bronco’s 2016 Super Bowl win.

Who’s the better cheerleader? Who would you rather follow? A rhetorical question, to be sure.

Personal Power Versus Greater Good

So as leaders, what do we do when we receive praise? The ability to deflect praise toward those who deserve it is important for a number of reasons. Giving credit to others keeps us from becoming conceited, self-absorbed, or a Personal Power (P2) leader. In addition, it allows those who had a contributing role to experience the success as well. Praising others also shows our personal desire to be a servant, a true mark of amazing leadership.

This attitude does not come naturally to most people. To this end, we must commit to something much greater than ourselves. If we’re constantly looking for glory and praise from being a Personal Power Leader, then our priorities are wrong. The same is true if we choose to give others praise, but in a showy, “look at me” manner.

It seems we expect strength, speed, toughness, and confidence—even cockiness in order to excel as a leader. I would offer that meekness, gentleness, and humility might better serve today’s leader, if we are looking for a long-term impact toward the Greater Good (G2). And don’t forget –we all need cheerleaders in our lives.