A rah-rah-rah leader

“Leader” can be defined in a number of ways – it can mean a boss, a pioneer, a trailblazer or a trendsetter.

A leader could be the president of a company, or an innovator, or someone who’s found success in her job. Or perhaps you view a leader as someone who spearheads a project or introduces new methods or ideas.

Then there are emerging leaders, those who are confident in their abilities, who know what they want out of life and are confident they can reach their career goals. They take the initiative to further their education while building their networks. They have a clear leadership style and can articulate their values and beliefs.

To me, particularly during my high school and college days, leadership has meant being an enthusiastic and vocal supporter.

I am talking about being a cheerleader.

A cheerleader may not possess the same qualities as the CEO of a company, or someone who just launched an innovative brand, but one thing all leaders have in common, no matter what their capacity, is their unwavering determination and pride. And that’s largely what makes cheerleaders who they are. I know, because I was a cheerleader for nearly 15 years. Rah, rah, sis, boom, bah!

What also makes cheerleaders “leaders” is their dedication, their ability to work in a team, and their coordination, skills that I honed at a young age.

Cheerleading practice, at least a few times a week, would last up to three hours, first consisting of team stretching exercises and warm-ups. Then we would rehearse – over and over and over – the various moves we were expected to perform during halftime at the upcoming basketball game or other school-sponsored event.

Whether on the sidelines in the gym or performing a routine in front of thousands of people, cheerleaders are always in the public eye. That means they must represent their school and community to the best of their ability. Cheerleaders are role models.

That’s how I felt when I participated, and I hope that my teammates felt the same. And in this case it’s not the best or most talented team member who qualifies as a leader. What I’ve learned is that some of the best leaders are the ones who promote collaboration and facilitate success in others.

Cheerleaders are like that in a sense. They are known for cheering on their teammates. I remember during practice we would always be encouraging one another to keep smiling and never give up, no matter how challenging the stunt.

Cheerleaders don’t only cheer on other athletes, they also compete against other cheerleaders at statewide competitions.

In college, Nikki, my cheering squad captain – who was an amazing athlete, by the way – got injured pretty seriously during practice just a couple months away from our big competition of the year, which unfortunately meant she wasn’t going to be able to perform with us. Of course, she had played an important part in the routine, so we were faced with having to find someone to replace her. And fast.

And guess who stepped in?

Me. I was selected by my cheering coach to take Nikki’s place for the duration of the season, which was sort of intimidating, considering she was a flyer – the person who gets thrown into the air – and I was a base – the person who throws (and catches) the flyer.

While learning a new part in a routine is something cheerleaders are used to doing, I was a little nervous considering I was taking on a more risky role. I did have some flying experience, so I was able to catch on fairly quickly. Plus I trusted my teammates, and they, too, were supportive of my new position on the squad.

It was, shall we say, uplifting. That experience not only gave me self-confidence, but it taught me that if you put your mind to something, and truly believe in yourself, you can achieve great things. Now that I think about it, my ability to step in during the challenging time for the squad even earned me a “Rookie of the Year” award at the college.

I guess that really makes me a leader.

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