I Lead With Pom Poms and Positivity, and NO, I Won't Tone It Down
A few weeks ago, I started a series on WNY People Development's social media platforms called "Virtual Leader Snapshot Series"; the purpose is to provide quick and easy suggestions to increase engagement, and build team connectness in our "new normal" of remote work. For the second installment, I encouraged team members to bring an item that brings them joy, or they feel could bring joy to others, to a virtual meeting; I felt it important to share my item in the video as an example...a set of pom poms. When I told my husband my plans, he looked at me skeptically and said, "Do you really think that's a good idea? You may come across as unprofessional or ditzy if you start cheering in the video."
Cue my side-eye.
Let me provide a little background. I started cheering in sixth grade; celebrating success, working together to achieve tough stunts, performing in front of a crowd, winning regional and national competitions...I was hooked from the start! This sport personified me: energy, flexibility, positivity, strength, rhythm, big smiles, and competitiveness. I spent 15 years on courts, fields, tumbling strips, and competition mats; I earned the nickname "Cheerleader Stef" in college because of this personality. After my body aged out, I continued to share my love of the sport; I was lucky to have the opportunity to coach both high school and college teams.
I can say with absolute certainty that the majority of lessons I've learned about how to be an inspirational and effective leader, came from 20 years in cheerleading; strategies I've used with cheer teams continue to prove effective in non-profit and corporate settings...but those strategies will be shared in another blog post, or maybe even a future book. Today, I want to go back to the pom poms, my husband's response, and my side-eye.
I have read plenty of articles that suggest toning down smile, energy, humor, or a "glass half full" attitude. Some people believe that optimistic behavior makes leaders seem less dependable, respectable, or serious about goals, but why? In my experience leading teams, sharing a smile and a positive comment has inspired loyalty, trust, and fun in the workplace, all of which contribute to employee success and retention. I don't avoid our shortcomings, I merely believe that once they are acknowledged and addressed, we should move on with a forward focus. All people want to be seen and valued, and receiving a "cheer" from others, encourages us to push further, harder, and with more innovation.
I provide a training session about non-verbal communication. In one activity, I share pictures of prospective candidates interviewing for a job; I ask the group to identify who they would hire and why. Every time, participants identify a smiling woman, sitting up straight in a chair; they believe that she is competent, prepared, confident, and would be great to work with because she exudes positivity. If this is what we look for in our co-workers, wouldn't we want the same in our leaders? I strive to walk into every room, meeting, and presentation with that in mind...and sometimes, when it's appropriate, I bring my pom poms.
I will not apologize for being a leader that chooses to focus on the positive, but I do recognize that my style doesn't work for everyone. As leaders, we all have different experiences, personality traits, and motivators, and different types of teams that we lead; it's important to respect our differences. So to my husband who leads with logic, facts, and a calm demeanor, march on with your balanced and composed style; my pom poms are under the desk if you ever need them.
If you would like to highlight the power of non-verbal communication in the workplace, we are prepared to offer "Essential Communication Skills" virtually for small groups. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a complimentary consultation.