Becoming a Coach When You've Been Acting Like a Cheerleader: Women in Leadership

I’m a big fan of podcasts.

Mostly because, I drive a lot. I live off-campus from my university so I have to drive to classes, drive to work and overall consider my car as one of my best friends considering the amount of time we spend together. Recently, on my Instagram story, I asked for people to send me their podcast recommendations to boost my variety up on the type of things I listen to. I received dozens of killer podcasts from all different walks of life. Everything from pop culture gossip to classic literary reviews and so this morning, driving to my 11:00am Communication Campagins class, I decided to take a listen to one of the many I wrote down.

This podcast was by super successful girl boss, Rachel Hollis. You’ve probably heard of, or even read, her popular books “Girl, Wash Your Face” and “Girl, Stop Apologizing.

While listening to her podcast, specifically the episode about finding your calling, she talked about how as women, we are often cheerleaders for each other. A lot of “You go girl” and “I’m rooting for you no matter what.” But Rachel personally aspired to be a coach. She wants to challenge women and shape them. And my mind actually exploded.

I am a cheerleader. I am completely a cheerleader.

I immediately sparked a conversation with my friends who are also leaders of their own respective fields, mentioning this simple quote. I questioned them if they are cheerleaders or coaches when it comes to their interpersonal communication while in leadership. They all had the same reaction as me…

Have I been doing this whole leadership thing wrong?

What is the “Cheerleader” Leadership Style?:
A cheerleader is someone who is constantly telling their team how awesome they are. Whether is a small group setting or an executive setting, the cheerleader is the one who will happily give you a gold star no matter the outcome.

What is the “Coach” Leadership Style?:
A coach is someone who constantly pushes their team to be better. They are not the ones who give them a high-five every time, a coach is someone who sets high goals and challenges their team to be the best they can be at all times.

How did we fall into the cheerleader style of leadership? Was it because we were all relatively positive people? Was it because we really like what we do and wanted to be a source of enthusiasm for those we work with? Probably both. I think it roots down to the answer to most human explanations for our actions… we just want to give love and be loved.

It’s the old age history class saying, would you rather be liked or feared? Obviously. Liked.

When asked to lead, especially when working with people who are around your same age, the inexperienced leader will resort to being a cheerleader. It’s a safe position to fall into. When I first took on a leadership role, it made sense for me to lead in a positive, uplifting manor. Who could hate the leader who sends a variety of “You’re killing it!” text messages every week? Plus, how could I possibly be doing something wrong by choosing to “rule” with the methods I have implemented into my veins?

Technically, the cheerleader isn’t wrong. We should all be cheerleaders. We should encourage each other, lift others up, but as a leader you need to hold yourself to a higher responsibility.

Setting the Standard for Yourself as a Leader
If you look at the metaphors of the two leadership styles in a literal perspective, it’s easy to be a cheerleader because nobody can be mad at a cheerleader if the team loses the game. I’ve never heard an ESPN commentator say, “Man, those cheerleaders should’ve been louder and maybe the team would’ve had a chance to win this game.”

Essentially, hiding into the role of a cheerleader makes you lose the accountability you have over your team. Their performance is your responsibility and nobody will only succeed by hearing how great they are all the time.

This is a vulnerable role to take because you are finally stripping away the comfort zone of being liked all the time. You do not need to be feared, but you have to embrace the fact that you may not always be adored.

When I used to competitively ride horses, I didn’t always like my coach. She would call me out for things I was doing wrong, push me to work harder and never let me settle for an ‘okay’ performance. She took liberty that I could be better than I was and she intended to make me better. She, of course, was proud of me and knew when to express it. She cheered me on when it mattered, but she was still an active coach and mentor during my experience riding. I never disliked my coach. She wanted me to be the best I could be.

That’s what every good leader should want to do, right?

Taking the First Steps to Be a “Coach”:
1. Have confidence in your abilities have a leader. You were placed in this position for a reason
2. Strengthen your communication, don’t hide behind praises and start asserting yourself in your team
3. Set goals for yourself and set goals for your team, share these goals and allow your team to contribute in the success