Whose Corner Are You In? A Reminder From Sheryl Lee Ralph

Have you seen it yet? Sheryl Lee Ralph’s show-stopping acceptance song and speech at this year’s Emmy Awards? If you haven’t yet, grab some tissues and take a look.

Despite having a film and television career that spans nearly five decades, this was Ralph’s first Emmy win, making her only the second Black woman in the history of the award to win for best-supporting actress in a comedy. Ralph’s central message: don’t give up. If you’re someone who has ever had a dream, don’t give up.

In addition to encouraging all of us dreamers to persevere, Ralph also name checked the people in her corner who made her win possible: Quinta Brunson—the creator of the runaway hit Abbott Elementary, for which Ralph won the Emmy, her husband, her children, and her friends. So, it meant, even more, when I stumbled upon video footage of Ralph’s children reacting to her win.

Fam, when you’re cheering, if you’re not levitating like Jordan about to dunk, are you even cheering?!?

It was clear that Ralph’s kids have been in their mama’s corner. And so has Abbott Elementary cast member Tyler William James, who escorted a visibly stunned Ralph to the stage to receive her award. Later, when images of him and Ralph appeared online, James wrote,

“No matter how old or grown we get NEVER forget those who paved the road that you have the privilege of walking on today. And if the time comes and you so happen to have the honor, walk them down that same road to their flowers. This moment is one of the greatest honors of my career and I will forever shed a tear every time I come across it. All love for Queen Mother @thesherylleeralph

It's clear that Ralph has had some outstanding people in her corner, from the friends who have encouraged her in her decades-long career, to those she’s mentored and who follow in her footsteps, to the creators who cast her in roles, to the family that unabashedly celebrates her.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of asking for help because, the truth is, no one succeeds alone. There’s no such thing as a self-made anything. No matter how you define success—whether through academic achievement, financial gain, visibility, or the change you facilitate—there is always some advice, encouragement, emotional, financial, or practical support you’ve received along the way.

So the question is, whom are you supporting?

Who can count on you to be in their corner? How do you show up to support your friends, family, and colleagues as they pursue their dreams?

According to the good folks at the University of Pennsylvania, we can offer people four primary forms of support: appraisal, emotional, informational, or instrumental.

Appraisal is the type of support extended when people can offer feedback that is helpful for evaluation, improvement, and growth. For example, if a colleague has a big presentation coming up, to help them prepare, you sit in on a practice session so you can give feedback and tips to help improve their delivery. Similarly, you can offer appraisal support after their presentation in preparation for the next big speaking engagement, making way for constant improvement.

Another invaluable type of support is emotional support. This is when we can commiserate and empathize with the folks in our lives. It’s where we express empathy, love, and concern. This type of support has been iconized in rom-coms when the sistah squad shows up post-break-up with copious amounts of wine and snacks of dubious nutritional value to support their heartbroken friend.

In the workplace, emotional support may look more like an encouraging text to your colleague as they take the stage for a big presentation or serving as a sounding board as they work through pre-event jitters.

While emotional support is often intangible, instrumental support, on the other hand, is more palpable. It’s when your colleague’s presentation prep is running behind, so you offer to assist them with preparing their slide deck, or you take on some other tasks so they can focus on their upcoming speech.

Instrumental support can also (and hopefully does 👀) take the form of an equitable distribution of domestic labor. This way, one partner (usually the woman in heterosexual couples) doesn’t get stuck constantly working the second shift to the detriment of her professional dreams.

The fourth type of support, informational, is vital. It’s the “plug” to the scholarship opportunity that will help you finish your degree, a referral to a professional opportunity that can change the course of your career, or a link to mentors and coaches who can help you reach your next level.

All of these types of support are invaluable, but the most important thing you can do to support your friends and colleagues is to ask, “How can I support you?” Without this insight—and their Consent—we can easily cross the line from supportive to meddlesome. Or worse, we can unintentionally communicate that we don’t believe in them and their capacity to make their dreams a reality. Listening to how you can help is the first step to truly being in someone’s corner.

As Sheryl Lee Ralph’s Emmy win reminds us, on our path to success, we’ll need to strive, we’ll need to believe, and we’ll need the right people in our corner. If you have a big dream and want professional support to make your idea a reality, consider coaching. Enrollment for Vision Builder, my ten-session coaching program for innovators, founders, and entrepreneurs, is open. Book your discovery call today.