5 Leadership Lessons from Netflix’s Cheer
“I can’t believe they let Sherbs fall.” “I REALLY hope Jerry makes mat!” “Wow, Gabi’s parents are nuts.”
If you’ve been overhearing comments like that, but are clueless about what they mean, then you’ve not yet discovered Netflix’s latest binge-worthy hit, Cheer.
Cheer is a six-episode docuseries that takes us behind the scenes of one of the most successful competitive cheerleading squads in the country, the team from Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. The team includes about 40 elite athletes who have earned the National Champion title 14 times in the last 20 years, many of those years under the leadership of head coach Monica Aldama.
Watching Monica work her magic was my favorite aspect of the show (and this isn't the first time I draw leadership lessons from TV). After all, when you hear a coaching record like hers, especially in a college sport dominated by male coaches, you immediately want to know, “What’s her secret?!”
Coach Monica brings a unique balance of toughness and rigor that inspires her athletes to perform at their best, while also showing she loves and supports each of them as individuals, encouraging them to open up to her about challenges they face in their personal lives.
Her winning leadership style holds 5 valuable lessons for all of us:
1. BE CALM AND IN CONTROL
One thing you notice right off the bat is that Monica is a strong but quiet presence. She doesn’t scream or raise her voice at the team, but is still firm and strict. Especially in high-pressure situations, she recognizes that her team needs to see a calm and focused leader at the helm. Even in the midst of a crisis (the show includes MANY falls and injuries), she remains calm, cool and collected.
2. DO NOT ACCEPT DISRESPECT
Monica clearly has ZERO tolerance for disrespectful attitudes, tone or language from anyone on her team. She reacts quickly (but again, calmly) to shut down bad behavior, whether it’s directed at her, another member of the coaching staff, or even another team member. As a result, she’s created a culture on her team where EVERYONE demands and gives respect and support.
3. KEEP AN EYE ON THE BIG PICTURE
Whenever Monica is watching the team practice their routine, she’s standing way back at the edge of the mat, filming on her iPad. She stays focused on each individual team member’s moves and positions, while also maintaining a high-level view of the full formation.
This is a great lesson for business leaders, who must stay connected to the needs and concerns of every individual on their team without losing sight of all that the full team is working together to achieve.
4. DON’T BE AFRAID TO MAKE TOUGH DECISIONS
With nearly 40 kids on her team and a limited number of spots on the competition mat, Monica has to make difficult decisions all the time. When a team member is hurting or injured, does she encourage them to push through the pain, or err on the side of caution to limit the risk of further injury?
When she sees a team member (like Jerry) who has a winning attitude but weaker technical skills, does she promote him or choose someone with stronger technique? Whatever the challenge, Monica faces it head on, acts quickly and decisively, and moves forward with focused intention.
5. LET YOUR PEOPLE SPEAK UP
Throughout Cheer, we frequently see the team in a huddle: wrapping up a day of practice, sharing a pep talk before a big competition or on the sideline of a football game. In each and every huddle, we see different members of the team chime in, reinforcing Monica’s comments.
It’s clear that she’s built a culture where people on the team feel safe and empowered to speak up. And by creating space for anyone on the team to take the floor and drive the conversation, she’s actually inspired her team to echo her message.