Teddy Roosevelt put it well. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…” While the critic doesn’t count, the people behind the man in the arena do count. There would be no Impressionists without Paul Durand-Ruel, no Green Bay Packers early dynasty without Vince Lombardi, no great theater without the writers, producers, directors, designers, and stage managers that you do not see on stage, in the arena. The hero’s journey is about the hero. The leader’s journey is about the team.
Marcy Adams has earned credit in the arena and behind the team in the arena. She was the Captain Class BRAVE leader of Minnetonka High School’s 2012 National Championship Cheerleading team inspiring and enabling her teammates. And then she was coach of the schools’ 2017 National Championship team. From captain in the arena to leader behind the girls in the arena, her role was different, but her fundamental attitude was the same.
In 2012 she said “Being part of a team sport has taught me a lot about working with others and communication skills” She went on to talk about being a role model for young girls in the community and the work she was doing with the Sparkling Skippers, the adaptive cheer team she created for Minnetonka students with disabilities.
Marcy starts by building strong personal relationships with her girls, primarily because that’s what she does as a relator and also to help her coach them in the way they need. Some need to be pushed. Some need to be given free reign. All need different things at different times.
Then Andre Brewer, overall head coach of the program, coordinates the choreographer to design the right, winning routine for her girls. Marcy describes Brewer as “an unbelievable mentor and motivator…partner…supporter (who) allows me the space and opportunity to shape these girls not only into the best versions of themselves as cheerleaders but the young women the future needs.” (This young lady is unable to accept praise without crediting others.)
Then the girls learn the routine. And practice. And practice. And practice. All the while, Marcy concentrates on setting the context for their work. She pays attention to the atmosphere in the gym before every practice and adjusts as needed to make it work for everyone.
The United States does not yet define cheerleading is a real sport like football or basketball. But the students at Minnetonka understand how much work it takes to deliver this combination of dance, gymnastics and positive attitude. They now stop cheerleaders in the halls to congratulate them. The girls get great satisfaction from the work itself, from supporting the football and basketball teams, from the recognition and from their national championships. Marcy gets great satisfaction from inspiring and enabling both her teams — the national champions and the adaptive cheer team she’s coached all the way through.
Implications for you
Leadership is about inspiring and enabling others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. Teams need heroes. They need role players. They need leaders in the arena and behind the arena. There are valuable lessons to be learned from Marcy’s stories as hero and leader.
• The most successful heroes are heroes to their teammates as well, working together and communicating well, combining both hero and leader as hero leaders — often as members of The Captain Class.
• It’s helpful, though probably not required, to have experienced success as a member of a team before trying to coach or lead. Being able to say “I’ve been in your shoes” builds credibility.
• The most successful leaders instinctively step back and let others be heroes.
The hero’s journey and leader’s journeys are similar, but not the same. At some point, the hero has to accept the quest themselves and get into the arena. The leader inspires and enables others on their quests perhaps arranging forces for battle strategically from outside the arena and perhaps leading forces in the arena tactically.