Everyone Needs a Champion

“I try to believe like I believed when I was five…when your heart tells you everything you need to know.” – Lucy Liu

I recently listened to a TED Talk by the late Rita Pierson, an educator for 40 years, about the need for every child to have a champion, an adult who will believe in them and their abilities. She said she once heard a colleague say, “They don’t pay me to like the kids.” Her response: “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” This is so true, but does it only apply to children? Aren’t we all more likely to perform better when we’re in an empowered environment, working with colleagues and supervisors we like and respect? This doesn’t imply working with people who don’t challenge us; in fact, it means the opposite. People who see our full potential are way more likely to motivate us to do better because they care and they know it’s possible and we want them to be right. We want to do right by them.

So, who are you being a champion for these days? Is there someone who is performing better because you made it possible by simply believing in them? If no one comes to mind, then it may be time to develop these relationships. Ultimately, this becomes your legacy. You don’t need to be a teacher or philanthropist to have this impact on someone. As long as you work with people, the opportunity to make a positive impact in their life is real.

In many ways, this runs counter to how we think people in managerial positions should lead. After all, isn’t the job of the manager to enforce perfection and let people know when they’re not working optimally? Perhaps, if you’re the manager of a robot, yes, but if you’re the leader of people, people are not motivated by a “gotcha style.” They want to be able to trust their supervisors. They want to feel supported and inspired. They desire a culture that is safe enough to allow for occasional mistakes and bad ideas. Instead, if they think you’re waiting to find the evidence of how they are not good enough, they will fulfill this perception. They will prove you right or you will prove it right because that is expectation. Instead, if they know you’re expecting the moon from them, they will work extra hard and, possibly, reach the sky (or higher).

I often hear people in advertising talk about how they’re not making a difference in the world. They believe their friends who went into public service or nonprofits are the ones making a difference in the world. It’s a shame, because often the people who need the most support are not the obvious suspects. They’re not in a classroom, support group, or calling a hotline. They’re often the people working beside you, juggling the demands of life and wanting to feel like they’re making a positive contribution and living up to their potential. You, as their peer, manager, or even a direct report, can be that difference. You believing in them can make a profound difference in their life, which can ultimately lead to a profound difference in our world.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.