Cheer-leading vs. Leading the Cheering

My daughter is a cheerleader at her junior high school. And without a trace of bias entering into my assessment, I have to say that she prettiest, most talented one in the bunch.

And it’s not because most of the other cheerleaders are terrible, either.

Okay, one did look a little like Dobby the House Elf.

And there is one that could have been the female twin of Herby from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Last night, I kept waiting for her to do a cheer that started with “I WANT TO BE A DENTIST.”

And there was one tiny thing that looked like an American Girl doll got into the cheer-leading outfits and snuck into squad.

Back to my daughter. She keeps perfect control of her movements, always in step with the beat.  She knows every cheer, and she helps others learn their movements. Technically, her performance is flawless. My girl is the very essence of a cheer-leader.

But something funny happens in between cheers. My daughter checks out. At no point does she actually cheer in support of the team. I’m not sure that she’s ever known if her team has won or lost a game. In fact, when we got into the car, I asked her if she knew the sport for which she had just cheered. Her blank face provided the answer.

There’s this other girl on the squad who doesn’t have the graceful movements of my girl. She is a little clumsy, and she always appears to be a half-beat ahead or behind the rest of the group.

This other girl, though, cheers for the team. She calls out encouragement to players by name. She gets on her feet, independent from the squad, to explode into clapping when the team scores. This girl might not be a world-class cheer-leader, but she is absolutely fantastic at leading cheers!

That’s true at work, too. Some people are gifted in their disciple. They are capable of flawless execution. They make the work look easy. For them, their high performance comes without effort. And sometimes, like with my daughter cheer-leading, it’s done without much real passion for the mission, without much heart for the team.

Sometimes, it’s those who aren’t the most gifted who demonstrate the most heart. At work, what manager doesn’t want perfection? But looking back at my management career, the ones I considered my superstars didn’t give me flawlessness. They gave me passion, excitement, energy, creativity. And a lot of heart. That more than made up for a few errors along the way.

And you know something? Customers, co-workers, and bosses can tell those who perform well even when they just “call it in” every day. And they know who might struggle with performance but bring their A-game to work. These people try harder, want it more, push themselves to the limits, and give with their hearts.

After the game, I asked my daughter if she actually watched any of the basketball game. I was thrilled when she nodded her head up and down emphatically.

“When?” I asked, wondering if she watched when I went to get some water.

“Whenever there’s a really hot guy on the court!”

Check and mate.

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