In our “everyone’s a winner” culture, there are very few things that will hamstring your leadership more than having too many cheerleaders on the sideline of life.

The quality of lyrics in pop music has declined drastically over the last decade. I’m sure that each generation has bemoaned the youngsters’ music since the beginning of time; yet I am certain that we have reached a new zenith in lyrical absurdity.

Driving down the road with my wife, I heard this pop artist named Omi (or is it OMI?) sing, “Oh, I think I found myself a cheerleader, she is always right there when I need her.” As ridiculous as the song and the lyrics are, this guy makes a point. Most people want a cheerleader–someone to make you feel great about yourself at just the right moment.

Our family went to a high school homecoming football game recently, and had to sit on the visitor side. Schools are smart. They schedule a significantly weaker opponent for the homecoming game so they can look incredible. The plan worked. At the end of the first quarter, the home team was up 21-0. On the first play of the second quarter, the home team ran 40 yards for another score.

Then.

The away team cheerleaders came out and started their cheer: “We are the best. We are the best. We are the best because we are better than all the rest. Go team!

I couldn’t help but chuckle.

I’m looking at the scoreboard. Now 28-0. The away team was very clearly not the best. They were tanking. They were struggling to catch their breath.

What they needed was a coach to help them generate a small win to build positive momentum.

What they had were cheerleaders, repeating a memorized chant that their faces screamed that they didn’t believe.

This was a high school football game. No harm, really. I’m sure this team, within their own division, plays just fine. The kids are having fun. It’s just a game.

In life and leadership, we do the same thing.

Like Omi, we want to find ourselves a cheerleader so when things get difficult, there’s someone right there to spout off the good things you want to believe even when you know they aren’t true. We want to surround ourselves with the appearance of positivity and success even when strife and frustration are the reality.

You may want one, but you don’t need to find yourself a cheerleader.

What you need is a coach.

Here’s why:

Coaches tell you the truth.

Coaches have been given positional permission to tell you the truth, and if they’re good coaches, they will. A cheerleader isn’t suppose to chant, ” Ra, ra, your O-line is weak!” But a coach can say, “The offensive line is preventing the rest of the unit from gaining yards.” Likewise, coaches in our lives have permission to call out the deficiencies in our life, leadership, ministry, and character that are keeping us from moving forward. They see the things we don’t. We place these people in our lives on purpose because we all need truth-tellers. Leadership can be an isolating calling, which is why leaders must be even more intentional than every one else about selecting and enabling great coaches.

Coaches have experience.

The reason why coaches have their position is because they have a wisdom they’ve garnered from their experiences. They have led, studied, grown, and been given the giftedness to see how you can improve. One reason why cheerleaders don’t chant advice to players is because they wouldn’t know what to say. That may be a generalization; surely there are some football-savvy cheerleaders. On the whole, coaching sports isn’t in their wheelhouse. Likewise, just because someone is on the sidelines in your life doesn’t mean they have the wisdom to give you worthwhile advice. Only coaches have the experience necessary to genuinely help you get better. Don’t seek actionable input from the water boy (sorry, Adam Sandler). Part of selecting great coaches is finding someone with the most experience to give you the best advice.

Coaches are invested in your win or loss.

Cheerleaders show up at every game, say the same things, and genuinely are unaffected by the outcome. In life, we want to call this “unconditional love.” Yet someone who will continue to repeat supportive and affirming statements when you’re at the epicenter of crisis is not loving you, they are enabling you. True unconditional love comes from people who are willing to tell the hard truth when an altruism would be easier. Coaches must do this because they have skin in the game. They help to game plan, master mind, and pray. They meet with you, invest in you, and sojourn with you. Your win is their win, and your loss is their loss. Coaches are better than cheerleaders because it genuinely matters to them if you are winning or losing.

So, who can be a coach?

Let’s say what you’re thinking. This is an article about coaching by a guy who offers coaching services. So here’s the pitch, right?

No.

I do offer coaching services because I believe that I have a particular kind of knowledge and expertise that’s revolutionary for certain leaders and churches. My experience and background in understanding types of leadership and how that expresses itself in a church staff or team is valuable to churches where their teams or leaders are struggling for cohesion and effectiveness.

But that might not be you. I might be the exactly wrong person to coach you.

You still need a coach and not a cheerleader.

Spouses make great coaches. When we allow them to be a coach rather a cheerleader, they will give you the advice no one else can or could.

More experienced colleagues make great coaches. It could be a coworker, boss, or friend who lives somewhere else. These people, especially when you aren’t forced to “compete” with them, can be a kingdom worker alongside you to help you.

You make a great coach. Yes, you. One of the best way to appreciate the people coaching you is to stand on the sidelines of someone else’s life. Being a coach doesn’t mean having all of the answers. It means being willing to give honest input rather than platitudes. Find someone with less experience than you, and invest in them.

Omi (still not sure if it’s OMI?) may have found himself a cheerleader, but I hope you find yourself a coach.