Cheer! Or the Monica Masterclass in Leadership

I started watching Cheer! on Netflix only because my friends kept talking about it. In spite of my lack of interest in cheerleading, I surprisingly discovered a fascinating story of success, incredible team culture, triumph over all odds and real leadership.

Monica Aldama coaches the Navarro junior college cheerleading team in the small town of Corsicana, Texas – less than an hour away.  Yet, their story was all new to me. Monica came to Navarro with her business degree from the University of Texas and an MBA 24 years ago. She has since led Navarro to 14 national championships and five grand national championships. She is the Nick Saban of college cheerleading.

The Cheer! series was a visual reminder that not all great leaders are in big companies with big titles. In Monica’s case, she appears to be doing what she loves and leaving her mark on everyone around her.

Monica Lessons:

These Monica lessons stuck with me after watching Cheer! She:

  1. Set crystal clear goals & worked them every day. Monica had the squad laser focused on being at their best by nationals. Yet, success also meant complete commitment through hard work and being there for each other. There was no let up or pass – consistently following the team plan and doing routines over and over when they needed work.
  2. Kept the entire team’s best interest as the top priority. Monica and the team had a goal of winning the national championship. This meant at times she had to move a cheerleader out of a key role to give the team the best chance to win. She made those decisions quickly, confidently and directly. She cared so much about each student, but their shared goal of winning as a team was the first priority.
  3. Was transparent. Monica was open and direct on individual performance, who ‘made mat’ (or first squad) and how to get better.  She also emphasized that everyone had an important role and each cheerleader had to be ready to step in at any time. Her openness built trust within the team.
  4. Set very high standards combined with great care. The team worked so hard for her because of her high expectations, yet they also knew that with this push to excel she cared for each and every cheerleader.
  5. Promoted and created team pride. Monica expected team members to remember that it was an honor to be on the team. This honor carried responsibilities- whether it was supporting a local event, respectfulness to fans, or learning the names and accomplishments of prior squad members. I had the chance to be in a quick picture with a few of the Cheer! team at Oprah’s Vision Tour. Monica’s coaching on respectfulness was on full display as the team members were patient, available and kind as many came up for pictures or to say hello.
  6. Had their back. She was a sounding board and sometimes the one adult they could turn to for help. Her kindness and concern for each of them was powerful especially when combined with her high expectations. She also gave them a second chance.
  7. Was a meticulous planner. Monica knew every detail of championship scoring and how to ensure the routine maximized the opportunity. She outlined exactly what must be accomplished each week and month to reach their goals. She had multiple contingency plans ready for the injuries that are so common in this sport.
  8. Lived calm and steady. Multiple times she said to her assistant, “I’m anxious – but the kids don’t need to see that. If I’m calm – they’ll be calm.” She knew the team took their cue from her and that her fears or anxiety would be passed to them.

Monica Aldama is having an astounding impact at a junior college in a small Texas town. After watching this series, I have a feeling Monica was destined to shine no matter where she landed – and the cheerleaders that have come through Navarro are all the better because of it.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults and can be followed @pattibjohnson.

Patti Johnson