THURSDAY THOUGHTS: I Lead With Pom Poms, and NO, I Won’t Tone It Down

In 2020, I started a series on WNY People Development’s social media platforms called “Virtual Leader Snapshot Series”; the purpose was to provide quick and easy suggestions to increase engagement, and build team connectness in the wake of remote work brought on unexpectedly by the pandemic. For the second installment, I encouraged team members to bring an item that brings them joy, or they feel could bring joy to others, to a virtual meeting. I felt it important to share my item in the video as an example…a set of pom poms. When I told my husband my plans, he looked at me skeptically and said, “Do you really think that’s a good idea? You may come across as unprofessional or ditzy if you start cheering in the video.”

Cue my side-eye.

Let me provide a little background. I started cheering in sixth grade; celebrating success, working together to achieve tough stunts, performing in front of a crowd, winning regional and national competitions…I was hooked from the start! This sport personified me: energy, flexibility, positivity, strength, rhythm, big smiles, and competitiveness. I spent 15 years on courts, fields, tumbling strips, and competition mats; I earned the nickname “Cheerleader Stef” in college because of this personality. After my body aged out, I continued to share my love of the sport; I was lucky to have the opportunity to coach both high school and college teams.

I can say with absolute certainty that the majority of lessons I’ve learned about how to be an inspirational and effective leader came from 20 years in cheerleading; strategies I’ve used with cheer teams continue to prove effective in non-profit and corporate settings (more about those strategies will be shared in my book, CheerLEADERship– coming soon!).

So let’s go back to the pom poms, my husband’s comment, and my side-eye.

I have read plenty of articles that suggest toning down smile, energy, humor, or a “glass half full” attitude. Some people believe that optimistic behavior makes leaders seem less dependable, respectable, or serious about goals, but why? In my experience leading teams, sharing a smile and a positive comment has inspired loyalty, trust, and fun in the workplace, all of which contribute to employee success and retention. I don’t avoid our shortcomings or tough conversations, I merely believe that once they are acknowledged and addressed, we should move on with a forward focus. All people want to be seen and valued, and receiving a “cheer” from others, encourages us to push further, harder, and with more innovation.

I talk about non-verbal communication in many of my training sessions. In one activity, I share two pictures of prospective candidates interviewing for a job; I ask the group to identify who they would hire and why. Almost every time, the participants select a smiling woman, sitting up straight in a chair; they believe she is competent, prepared, confident, and would be great to work with because she exudes positivity. The reality is, if given an option, most of us would prefer to work with people who are collaborative team players; they know when to buckle down and focus, and they know when it’s ok to have a little fun.

If this is what we look for in our co-workers, wouldn’t we want the same in our leaders? I strive to walk into every room, meeting, and presentation with that in mind…and sometimes, when it’s appropriate, I bring my pom poms.

I will not apologize for being a leader that chooses to focus on the positive, but I do recognize my style doesn’t work for everyone. As leaders, we all have different experiences, personality traits, motivators, and different types of teams that we lead; it’s important to respect and leverage those differences. So, to my husband who leads with logic, facts, and a calm demeanor, march on with your balanced and composed style; my pom poms are under the desk if you ever need them.

#whynotyou #peopledevelopmentwithpurpose #leadwithpositvity #optimisticleadership #leadership #cheerleader #nonverbalcommunication #traininganddevelopment #leadingteams

Stefanie Adams is a leadership training facilitator, keynote speaker, adjunct professor, former elected official, wife, and mother based in Wilmington, NC. She earned her M.Ed. in Multicultural Education in 2008, and has over 20 years experience leading and training in corporate, non-profit, and educational settings. Her passion is developing emerging leaders, building collaborative teams, and creating positive workspaces as Chief Empowerment Officer of WNY People Development.

Launched in February 2020, WNY People Development provides virtual and in person training, coaching, and keynote speaking topics for leaders at all levels, and organizations of all sizes. WNY People Development partners with clients to develop relevant, impactful, and skill building training options for employees, particularly front line and first time leaders, Millennial and Gen Z workforce; we create programming that drives improved culture and morale, builds competencies, engages teams, and propels growth through interactive, relevant, and fun sessions. A La Carte courses, and service agreement options available depending on client need. Learn more at