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3 Leadership Roles: The Coach, the Cheerleader and the Critic

Three roles for you to master are the coach, the cheerleader and the critic

After searching recently “leadership” on Google, I received about 146,000,000 results in .42 seconds. In an attempt to drill down my search, I searched “leadership and government.” This time? 278,000,000 results in 0.39 seconds.

But I don’t need a Google search anecdote to know the web is flooded with lessons and best practices on leadership. As I read a few articles, I tried to make sense of the various leadership research designed to elevate teams and employees. I kept on arriving at three leadership fundamentals: the need to act as coaches, cheerleaders and critics.

Want to become a better leader in the workplace? Start by viewing your role in those three manners. By understanding each of these functions, and how you deploy each strategy, you can help make complex management problems clear and drive improved performance across your team.

The Role of the Critic

During a writing coaching session, I was asked to think about my “internal critic.” I get shivers sometimes thinking about this person - it’s that voice that pops into my head when I am writing or editing. My internal critic is not a nice person. And as uncomfortable as my critic makes me feel, it’s also a source of motivation. The point is that we all need something, or someone, to light a bit of a fire in us. Then it’s our job to channel that energy and use it constructively. Critics can play this role, and it’s up to us to manage our emotions and channel criticism into positive outcomes. Without something, or someone, holding teams accountable, you risk becoming complacent in mediocrity.

Being a critic means that you are being thorough in your assessments of performance. If there is a behavior or action that you want to curb, interject. If there’s a project that just isn’t up to par, communicate why the performance is lacking, and provide tangible solutions to right the course. This won’t just help certain poor-performing employees, but continue to build a culture of excellence across the team.

The Role of the Cheerleader

Sometimes we just need a cheerleader, someone who will listen and has a way of showing empathy to us. These people have mastered reflective listening, and understand your perspectives to help guide you through your challenges. I guarantee if you think hard enough, you can find a person like this in your life. And maybe you’re that cheerleader for someone, and you recognize that one of the greatest joys in life is to just make someone smile. The value of this role should not be understated.

Dignity and fairness are two of the most important things and employee needs to feel valued in the workplace. This is where the cheerleader can shine. If those two elements are somehow broken, a cheerleader can step in and remind an employee of their value, importance and the great work they are doing to support the mission.

The Role of the Coach

Everyone needs a coach. But a coach is more than simply someone to look up to, admire and want to follow. A coach is the perfect blend of the critic and cheerleader. They have developed a close relationship with employees and know when they need to be critical, or when to give them a pick-up. Coaches have that innate ability to be perceptive of others, showing empathy and leveraging reflective listening. Coaches ask the right questions, and when they have to make a tough decision, their team will follow.

They are also able to help show the big picture for teams. Too often employees (a younger version of myself is very guilty of this) tend to get tunnel vision - whether it’s one opportunity, one project or one dream job they are chasing. A coach can help the employee gather a new perspective on complex issues and help navigate a much bigger world than what we sometimes choose to see.

Mastering these three roles is not easy, and it’s part of the leadership toolkit that makes up the 278 million resources you can find on the web. There’s no doubt that leadership is a constant endeavor, and that great leaders are continually learning how to hone their skills as critics, coaches and cheerleaders. The best leaders that I have witnessed or had the pleasure to work for, always had the ability to build a positive relationships, communicate effectively and keep leadership simple.

So the ultimate challenge is knowing how to act as a coach, critic and cheerleader all at once. Learn to balance each of these roles, and you can drive your team toward success.

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