Finding your co-worker cheerleaders: These sideline supporters are a boost for everyone17 Jun 2020 · 5 min read
Maryann Johnson-Hill, Director Operations Cat. Management, Combustible Category
The relationships we have at work can be complex; there are colleagues we admire, like, or respect. Occasionally, when it’s all of these combined, they become friends. For some managers in a large organization, forming close friendships with colleagues may be considered a perk. For me, it’s a necessity.
One step up from these friendships are company ‘cheerleaders’, who are especially important during this period of isolation. These are special people who provide you with support when needed and lend their authority to your voice to help get decisions over the line.
As the name implies, a company cheerleader always has your back. They are not shy to sing your praises, or S.P.E.L.L. O.U.T. the great ideas which you may not have explained very well the first time around. This special mutual bond acts as both a safety net and rocket fuel. So, how do you choose the right cheerleaders to build relationships that are good for you and your company? Here are my top tips:
1. Dedicate time and effort to choosing your cheerleader – and allow them to choose you
Friendship, of course, must be the starting point. Being a cheerleader to your friends comes naturally – as it does in a friendship outside of work.
The emotional aspect of the relationship is important, because you need someone you can be yourself with, show vulnerability to, and learn from. They lift you up in moments of self-doubt and are a shoulder to cry on, if needs be.
On other occasions, you may simply need straight-talking advice, guidance, and direction that’s specifically business-related.
Finding cheerleaders who meet all of these requirements is a challenge. But taking the time to navigate an organization to find people you connect with will add value and enrichment to your career – not to mention your social life.
2. A work persona doesn’t attract cheerleaders, so drop it
As a British mum of two sporty teenage boys, I found some of my best friends on the touchlines of rugby fields and cricket pitches. Standing in tortuous conditions watching your children play competitive sports gives you something in common from the get-go!
Now comes the dilemma of how do I find the same in the workplace? From the minute you put on your work clothes, you’re adopting a persona. But there’s a difference between being professional and trying to be someone you’re not.
To make deep connections at work, drop that facade and simply be your wonderful self. You will soon be naturally attracted to kindred spirits and, moreover, become aware that work personas are exhausting – both to keep up yourself and to be around.
3. WFH: How webchats can strengthen your cheerleaders’ bond
The enforced lockdown conference calls from our studies/kitchens/bedrooms are effortlessly helping us shed the added layer of our work personas. Whether it’s your boss’s children video-bombing an important call or letting your hair down during virtual drinks at 5pm on a Friday (with your partners popping by to say hi to your colleagues) we are all showing more of who we really are.
As a result, I’m now bringing a much more authentic version of myself to work. And I believe my colleagues are, too. The blurred lines between work and home are an advantage, and the resulting bond is making us stronger as a team. I find myself getting less stressed in work situations because of the knowledge that we’re all in this together.
Where once I would have reined in my emotions and conformed to expectations, I now feel free to express myself just that little bit more. I’ve grown to realize that it’s OK to do that, because most of us are feeling more empathic right now.
The notion of remote working has also changed pre-meeting routines. Where it once might have been a snatched chat in the office kitchen, we can now check in with our fellow cheerleaders over WhatsApp, asking each other, “How do you think this would go down?”, “How can we tackle this?” or “Can you help me with this?” before the conference call begins.
It’s enabled me to feel more relaxed ahead of virtual meetings, because I know we’re going to have a good, constructive, exciting conversation. And that’s not always a given in offline meeting rooms where work personas can dominate.
4. Trusted cheerleaders’ ideas can provide a fresh perspective
Coming up with original solutions, or negotiating delicate situations, can be challenging in the lockdown environment. Offline check-ins with your cheerleaders can provide fresh insight and ease tough conversations.
If there’s a difficult topic to get over the line, my cheerleaders might turn to me, or I to them, for encouragement, advice, emotional support, and a platform to bounce ideas off. I value their perspectives, which may be very different to my own, and might alter the way I approach a situation.
That’s why it’s so vital to build friendships that are rooted in solid foundations. By trusting my cheerleaders’ honest feedback, my eyes have been opened to new lines of thought. And it’s made me more decisive and effective in my role.
5. Cheering others: the art of empathy
In a meeting room, how often have you thought a resolution would be far simpler to reach if everyone could just connect on a human level?
We’ve all been there. And we’ve probably all failed on these fronts, too.
Again, cheerleaders play a pivotal role, providing a sounding board for our frustrations. But, because they know us as a friend as well as a colleague, they can also help us empathize with other people’s viewpoints when we’ve misjudged someone or the situation they’re in.
And it’s so easy to be an empathetic cheerleader when you see your friend is missing something you’ve already noticed. In short, when one of us gets it wrong, cheerleaders calm us down and help us to understand – rather than blindly dismiss – other perspectives.
Teams need cheerleaders
The importance of having cheerleaders on the sidelines can’t be underestimated.
Look at the world today. In the face of unprecedented challenges, it is our community spirit that keeps moods buoyant and optimism alive. In business, as in life, the people close to us are the ones who keep us strong, motivated, inspired, and empathetic.
So, looking at life through a hopeful lens, give me an ‘F’… give me an ‘R’… give me an ‘I-E-N-D-S-H-I-P’.
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