What It Means to Be a Clapper

Blog Barista: John Leigh | Apr 4, 2019 | Culture | Brew time: 5 min

I’m a strong supporter in what well-known actor and comedian George Burns said, “behind every successful person there is a clapper.”

Successful people are supported by others who encourage them to seek their dreams, council them on their struggles and mistakes, and care about them as individuals. Personally, I know that any level of success that I’ve had can be largely attributed to the support of my wife and children. Additionally, there have been people who I worked under and alongside, who played large roles in the progression of my career. It is interesting to note that these individuals were comprised of work friends and cohorts as well as bosses, who took the time to mentor me. However, none of these individuals were designated by my company to become my mentors, but rather they took a personal interest in my individual growth.

What It Means to Be a Clapper

Every clapper:

  • Listens to your ideas, dreams and struggles,
  • Cares about you as an individual and sincerely wants you to succeed,
  • Pushes you to step out of your comfort zone to be the best you can be,
  • Makes subtle suggestions for improvements without being critical,
  • Allows you to make your own decisions,
  • Encourages you when things are not going well; and
  • Provides support during the tough times.

Clappers are advocates for your success. No one can be a clapper without having a relationship with the person. These people will put the extra effort into the relationship. They will work with you to correct weaknesses and to attempt new challenges. That is why most of our family or friends are a part of our primary support systems. However, sometimes you can find clappers within your company, work affiliated groups, and your external social organizations in your community.

Coincidentally, it is common that people become clappers for the people who encourage them. Which is not surprising. Mutual respect and caring goes a long way toward establishing a positive relationship and working environment. When people support and encourage you, you’ll be more inclined to do the same for others. These people will put the extra effort into the relationship. They will work with you to correct weaknesses and to attempt new challenges.

Who Is a Clapper?

KL&A’s office is a stone throw away from East Lansing, so it’s only natural to use the MSU basketball team as an example of clappers. Most MSU basketball fans are very familiar with the activity on the sidelines, especially after a Spartan player makes a mistake on the court. Recently, MSU’s head basketball coach, Tom Izzo, was pictured yelling at one of his players, Aaron Henry, during the 2019 NCAA Tournament. It’s really a non-issue, but Izzo was criticized for it. In basketball games, tensions are high. So, Izzo yells, shakes his finger at players who mess up, tells them what they did wrong and what they should’ve done. Then, he’ll turn his attention back to the game and the other players on the court. Seemingly, everyone moves on.

However, we don’t always notice what happens on the bench shortly thereafter. Usually one of the assistant coaches sits beside with the players who mess up and discuss what happened in a calm manner. They make sure that the players understand what went wrong and how to correct it. This discussion often ends with a pat on the back and some type of encouragement. You then see other players reaching out and complimenting them on their effort. In other words, they are saying, “You are the man! Go get them. Don’t let a mistake get you down.”

In this scenario, Tom Izzo is not the clapper. He is the boss. The assistant coaches and the other teammates are the clappers. They are the ones who create an environment where the player can make a mistake and learn from it, so that they can continue to contribute to the team in a positive manner. This system is why Izzo and MSU have such a successful program. Their team is comprised of clappers.

Becoming An Organization Full of Clappers

What works well for one, may not work well for others. Here at KL&A, we develop custom software using an Agile framework. This approach requires an environment in which our clients, and our managers, analysts and developers work in a collaborative and positive manner. Requirements are challenged and verified. Our developers’ code is subject to peer review. The team’s effort and performance is subject to review and assessment via sprint retros. Everyone works together. But, the outcome of these activities often determines how an individual team member feels about the workplace. Are the assessments honest without being overly judgmental or critical? Does the team offer positive feedback to other members of the team? Does the team encourage, asking for input and help when a person is struggling? It’s important to reflect on the structure of the company and the communication within the company. To be a company of clappers, we need to know what works well and what does not.

As a growing organization, KL&A often asks our staff to perform new tasks outside their daily routine. By doing so, it pushes them outside of their comfort zones which allows them to grow individually. This could entail a business analyst being asked to lead a JAD session for the first time. It could involve a developer being assigned as a technical lead. Or, it could require a staff member to contribute on a proposal by taking a lead role during a presentation. It has required leadership to ask questions such as are we working with our employees in their new roles? Do we offer timely feedback on their performance? Is this feedback provided in a positive manner which encourages them?

KL&A continually encourages its staff to seek their dreams, and advance their careers. In order to become a company of clappers, we need to give our staff the opportunity to attempt new roles and new responsibilities. We ask our employees to attempt new activities such as proposal writing, blog development and presentations. Therefore, it’s imperative that we provide critical feedback and encouragement to these efforts so that employees continue to grow professionally and personally. Everyone gets better by actually doing.

So, would you consider yourself a clapper? A person who is willing to support and encourage those around you?

Remember, that no one is assigned to be a clapper and no one will be assigned to clap for you. It is a conscious effort to help your peers. So, look for the clappers in your company and in your community. Then, try being a clapper yourself. It is contagious and fun. And in due time, you’ll find success.


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