Management Myth #11: The Team Needs a Cheerleader!

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Intrinsic Motivation Is What Counts
Once you pay people enough so that they feel they are fairly compensated for their jobs, internal motivation takes over. According to Dan Pink, the three components of internal motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

If you have control over your time at work, then you have autonomy. If you have the chance to improve your skills at work, then you have the chance to master your work. And, if you know what the goal or the vision is, then you have purpose.

Use Purpose for Problem Solving

If you are a cheerleading manager, then you have denied people the purpose. If you work for a cheerleading manager, then you don’t have the chance to share in the purpose. What's the problem? A common goal is what brings a team together. Sharing the purpose is what will help you solve problems, especially if the organization is in trouble.

In this case, imagine if Martin becomes brave enough to share the organization's problems and says, "We need more revenue this quarter. We need to ship products that will help us gain $X million in revenue. Can you help us do that?" What do you think the reaction would be? If I worked there, I would say, "Sign me up. Let's ship a great product on time, so our customers are happy and tell other people."

This is a case where the technical teams could participate and help the organization. But, if the cheerleading manager doesn’t share the problem, then how can the team help solve the problem?

Transparency Helps Everyone
When you have transparency about the good times, everyone shares in the excitement and celebrations. But businesses, just like our lives, have up and down times. Sharing the down times helps people realize that there are times when they might have to help the business. But, they won't help unless they feel as if the management is transparent.

Cheerleading is not transparent. Cheerleading is a form of paternalistic management that many adults find demeaning. Remember, your employees have to be old enough to work. They pay taxes. They are old enough to get themselves sufficiently dressed, clothed, and fed to get to work on time every day. They are responsible enough to find themselves shelter. They are responsible enough to enter into long-term legal and financial arrangements such as mortgages, marriage, and child rearing. When you use cheerleading as a management "tool," you deny that your employees have the intellectual reason to see what is going on.

Cheerleading Denies Everyone Courage
It's not easy to forgo the cheerleading if you have used it for a while. It takes courage to be transparent and admit that there is a problem. If you remain a cheerleading-manager, then you attempt to hide the problems. But, that's an incongruent stance, and sooner or later, the truth emerges.

It takes courage to be a manager who says, "Here's where we are." If you have been a cheerleading manager, start with that. You might or might not ask the next part: "Will you help me solve this problem?" You might be surprised by the solutions your staff will offer. At the very least, you will discover that you feel lighter by sharing the burden. And, perhaps, no one will fake stomachaches at your all-hands meetings.


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About the author

Johanna Rothman's picture Johanna Rothman

Johanna Rothman, known as the “Pragmatic Manager,” helps organizational leaders see problems and risks in their product development. She helps them recognize potential “gotchas,” seize opportunities, and remove impediments. Johanna was the Agile 2009 conference chair. She is the technical editor for Agile Connection and the author of these books:

  • Manage Your Job Search
  • Hiring Geeks That Fit
  • Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects
  • The 2008 Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management
  • Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management
  • Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People

Johanna is working on a book about agile program management. She writes columns for Stickyminds.com and projectmanagementcom and blogs on her website, jrothman.com, as well on createadaptablelife.com.

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