Leadership Mistakes

Excellent Leaders are Excellent Cheerleaders

Michael Mercer, Ph.d. asked:


Question: What is a secret shared by fantastic leaders and also great spouses and life partners?

Answer: Cheerleading!

That is, people with excellent leadership skills cheerlead after

* positive events

* victories

* a job well done

They also buoy up employees who experience a setback, bad news, or mistake.


Recent research showed that a person who responds enthusiastically – like a cheerleader – to his or her partner’s good news produces a stronger and healthier relationship than a person who responds compassionately to bad news. This was found in research by Shelly Gable, Ph.D., UCLA psychology professor, and reported in Journal of Personality & Social Psychology (Vol. 91, No. 5).

This relationship research sheds light on a key leadership skill: Leaders who ‘bond’ and form strong, productive relationships with employees and colleagues excel at cheerleading.

Gable and fellow researchers videotaped 79 couples talking about positive and negative events. Then, trained raters coded their partners’ responses for

* Usefulness: constructive or destructive

* Enthusiasm: energetic or passive

Example: A person proudly tells their partner that she or he just landed a promotion. Then, there are four possible responses to accomplishment:

1. Best response: Energetic – Constructive = “You really deserve it! You’ve been working hard for that promotion, and you earned it.”

2. Wishy-washy response: Passive – Constructive = only saying, “That’s nice.”

3. Lousy response: Energetic – Destructive = “Are you sure you can handle all that responsibility?”

4. Ultra-lousy response: Passive – Destructive = changing the subject

The research participants also filled-out a relationship satisfaction questionnaire eight weeks later, focusing on their partners’ response style to positive and negative events.


Super-useful finding: People with partners who typically give Energetic – Constructive responses to positive events reported the highest level of relationship satisfaction.

Another useful finding: A partner’s Energetic – Constructive response to positive events does more good for their relationship satisfaction than a partner’s sympathetic response to bad news.


So, how can managers, executives and other leaders use these intriguing research findings?

1st Tip – for positive events = When your employees or work colleagues do something wonderful, make sure you immediately give an Energetic – Constructive response. Translation: Act like a delighted and enthusiastic cheerleader.

2nd Tip – for negative events = When your co-workers or employees hit roadblocks or make mistakes at work, a fabulous leader immediately

* acts understanding

* resists the temptation to push their face in the mud

* makes sure the employees do not wallow in their problems

For example, if an employee makes a mistake, you can say, “I realize that bothers you. I know you usually do a great job. How can you avoid making that mistake again in the future?” Transform the negative event into a mood-lifting comment and encouragement.


As leaders, you can apply this relationship research in your day-to-day leadership skills. The results will be a stronger emotional bond with your employees. Since ‘what-goes-around-comes-around,’ the stronger the bond, the more likely your employees will

* enthusiastically support your leadership vision

* see to it that your goals get accomplished

* achieve high productivity – to earn your delightful cheerleading response again and again

© Copyright 2007 The Mercer Group, Inc.


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