Several weeks ago, my daughter pranced into the house, excitement etched on her face. The sweat matted her hair to her forehead. But it didn’t matter. She’d done it…she’d been named captain of the high school cheerleading squad. This had been a goal of hers since she started cheering as a freshman, and as an incoming senior, she’d made it.
I gave her a hug and congratulated her. She really did deserve it. Her hard work, even when it infringed on things I felt she really should be doing, had been admirable. Now, I don’t know the first thing about what work needs to be done on a cheer squad. In all honesty, I’m probably the worst cheer dad there is. But I can recognize hard work when I see it…..and she had been putting in the hours, for sure.
High school captainships are sometimes tough. Too often, adolescents equate leadership with power, the ability to tell others what to do. I anticipate my daughter will also struggle with her first leadership experience in that way. In fact, if her interactions with her sophomore younger sister are any indication, she’s going to LOVE and then struggle with leadership at first.
So, I was tempted to sit her down and give her a long “leadership talk.” After all, I’ve led my whole life…from small team special operations in the military to large-scale departments with hundreds of employees in major corporations. I teach leadership to graduate students, and I individually coach executives in all sectors. So, I could definitely impart my “wisdom” on the newly anointed cheerleading captain of Verona High School.
But I didn’t.
For starters, I’m her dad, which usually means I’d be talking to a brick wall. A sigh. A roll of the eyes. Those are the likely responses I’d get, no matter how valid, reliable, or credible my “pearls of wisdom” might be. And secondly, she really just needs to learn from experience at this level of leadership. Experience IS the best teacher, although not always the most pleasant instructor.
Well, it didn’t take long. Two weeks into summer cheer practices, an exasperated cheer captain stomped through the kitchen and up the stairs. I gave it a few minutes and then quietly followed.
“Oh, I had to give the whole squad a lecture today,” she exclaimed with emphasis.
I nodded. “What about?”
Yikes…now that’s a tough one, but once again I bit my tongue…well, for the most part. I did briefly explain that as a leader, sometimes you have to accept that not everyone will be happy that you are the leader. There will be those who are jealous, still others who feel you are not deserving of the role. And sometimes the worst leadership decision is trying to please everyone all the time.
She nodded. I gave her a big hug.
“Hang in there,” I encouraged. And I hope she does. Her challenges as a first-time leader won’t stop there. And I doubt she’ll never try the strong-armed approach with the cheer squad again. But she’ll learn…slowly, perhaps. But she will. Deep down, she’s got exactly what it takes to be a great leader. She’s smart. She’s motivated and hard working. She strives to set the right example, and she genuinely cares about others. But she’s also a bit insecure, also a trait of most first-time leaders. She’s unsure of how and when to wield her influence and how to gain buy-in from others.
So, yes, she’ll learn…and I’ll be there with more hugs when she needs them. Perhaps the best parental coaching I can provide…..