x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

On leadership: Reasons to be cheerful

The Life: To keep motivation high, leaders need to master the art of cheerleading, writes Tommy Weir.

Southern Methodist University Mustangs cheerleaders. Thomas B Shea / Getty Images
Southern Methodist University Mustangs cheerleaders. Thomas B Shea / Getty Images

The other day I walked out of a meeting and thought to myself, "Cheerleading is a skill all leaders need to have."

But I couldn't recall seeing it listed as a major requirement to run a business.

Still, to keep motivation high, leaders need to master this art.

First the history. Cheerleading started in the late 1800s at Princeton University, which was known to have a "Princeton Cheer".

This was yelled from the stands by students at sports events.

A few years later, the idea of organised groups cheering in support of their team was picked up by other universities and soon the practice of cheerleading spread.

Reminiscing from my teenage years of being on the athletics field, it was clear cheerleaders played a role in building team spirit and motivating the players to do their best.

The school spirit aspect of cheerleading involves "pumping up" the athletes.

This is what business leaders need to do to ensure employees perform at their best.

In leadership circles, we call this motivation. But motivation has been stripped of its real meaning and often translates as "pay". What companies need are cheerleaders to increase motivation among their staff.

So let's look at what they do. On the sports field, cheerleaders start the celebrations at times of success.

When a touchdown or goal is scored or a basket is made, they rally the fans to express their joy. Watching the cheerleaders on the sidelines, it becomes obvious they celebrate on the smaller plays as well.

In business, leaders quickly build team spirit when they celebrate the good work of their employees. Cheerleading is a chance to increase motivation and remind everyone how important they are.

Plus, when times become tough, cheerleaders can help change the tempo and encourage staff.

Looking back, I don't recall cheerleaders telling sports players how badly they are playing.

Perhaps they know that would wreck confidence.

So instead, they encourage the players by asking them to focus on winning.

Business leaders would be wise to mimic them and support their employees.

So pick up the pom-poms and start leading the cheers.

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging market leadership, an advisor and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder and managing director of the Emerging Markets Leadership Centre.