Management Myth #11: The Team Needs a Cheerleader!


If you have a cheerleading manager (or, worse, if you are a cheerleading manager) in a troubled organization, then your team is likely missing its purpose. Replace those cheers with transparency, and you might be surprised by the solutions your team will come up with.

"We have mandatory all-hands meeting this afternoon. I'm going to have a stomachache then," David said.

"What do you mean?" Jenny asked. "You haven't even had lunch yet. How do you know? What are you talking about?"

"Look, you know what our wonderful division head, Martin, is going to say. He's not going to take questions about revenue, which is all I want to know about. Then, he's going to tell us, 'Everything is fine.' Well, that's a crock. Everything is not fine."

"I want to know what he and all the other division heads are doing about the fact that we're losing money. I want to know about the crazy leases we have on all these buildings. Does he think we don't read the financial statements or that we're stupid?"

"I don't want a cheerleader for a senior manager. I want someone who will give me straight talk. I don't care that it's an all-hands meeting. If you can't tell me that Martin is going to be straight with me, I'm not going."

Jenny sighed and said, "David, I know what you mean. Let me talk to Martin and get back to you. Don't get a stomachache just yet."

Jenny called Martin and said, "We need to talk before the all-hands meeting. Please, you have to fit me in. This is important. I need fifteen minutes of one-on-one time." Martin agreed, and they decided to have lunch together in Martin's office.

As they unwrapped their sandwiches, Jenny started. "Martin, you and I have discussed this 'cheerleading' business before. Well, I have one more data point. You know David, the technical lead on the SeriousDelivery project? He told me he was going to get a stomachache at 9 am this morning because he could not take another all-hands meeting where you played cheerleader instead of explaining how we are working ourselves out of the hole we are in.

"It's time to be honest and open with our employees. They are adults. We entrust them with our products, our customers, and our trade secrets. What are we waiting for? Tell them the truth. Ask them for help. They will help us."

"Jenny, you and I have talked about this until we were both blue in the face. You are wrong. People need motivation to keep working when things are not going well."

"Martin, what have you seen or heard that has led you to that conclusion?"

"What do you mean?"

"Just what I asked. People are working hard. They sneer at your cheerleading behind your back, and they are still working hard. So, what about this business of motivation do you think they need in an all-hands meeting? The other managers and I meet with people in our one-on-ones. People have internal motivation. They want to help. They want information and answers from you. Please don't cheerlead. Please reconsider. I'm concerned that more of my team will develop stomachaches. Worse than that, I'm afraid they will leave. And then, where will we be?"

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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