Cheerleading: is it corporate claptrap?

Touchy-feely concept or sound way to motivate staff?

Does the term "corporate cheerleading" make you think of managers in cheerleading outfits waving around corporate-coloured pom-poms?

Many see it as corporate claptrap, a way for a consultant to make money selling a touchy-feely concept but with no substance, while to others, it's a sound way to motivate and inspire staff. Opinion seems divided – some leaders and leadership experts believe it's a motivational tool while others feel corporate cheerleaders are just plain annoying.

An article on the website of Holland and Davis Management Consulting Services says the role of cheerleader — someone who encourages, gives pats on the back — is necessary even with seasoned employees, but it says managers should be cautious.

“If this role is overplayed, teams tend to be ‘all sizzle and no steak’; if underplayed, the team and their goals may be defeated through neglect, and their motivation will be zapped.”

Someone who does believe there’s a place in management for a cheerleader is John Baldoni, a leadership communications consultant in the US. Writing in Darwin magazine, he says leaders need to cheerlead their organisations.

“Cheerleading is enthusiasm channelled toward a cause. Work can be hard and, yes, boring at times. Someone with a fresh take on the work, backed by conviction and passion, can energise people and impart a jolt of energy.”

He’s talking about “adrenaline inducers — you cannot help being charged by their presence.”

Baldoni says managers who look on the bright side “affirm the value of people” and that their staff trust them.

“Such managers build bonds rooted in trust. Employees who trust their manager do not need to be prodded; they need only to be focused in the right direction.”

Staff are not the only ones who need focus — Baldoni says that when setting cheerleading targets, managers need to pick ones that are realistic and focus “the cheers” on the goal.

Another important point, says Baldoni is that corporate cheerleaders should not just stand on the sidelines — they should help when it’s needed.

“When employees see their manager pulling alongside them, those cheers have more meaning than someone emailing a cheer from two floors away.”

Managers or leaders should also know when not to cheerlead, such as when projects fail or when there are layoffs.

“Relentless enthusiasm in the face of a business decline will not only seem foolish, but downright idiotic… Choose your moments wisely. Day-to-day most employees can use a pick-me-up, a smile, a wink or a pat on the pack. A conversation about their day or their family might be all that’s necessary.”

Baldoni is aware that there isn't universal agreement that cheerleading is a good thing. Indeed, there are some who feel non-cheerleading leaders can be just as successful.

Writing on leadersdirect.com, psychologist Mitch McCrimmon says some very good leaders aren’t cheerleaders — they simply aren’t very inspiring.

“There must be a place for leading by example and other forms of quiet leadership.”

Meanwhile, a piece on the Social Entrepreneurs website points out that “unnecessary cheerleaders can be a pain in the neck”. The article does say, however, that effective managers should be encouraging. It suggests teams should be encouraged as a whole by supporting members to experiment with new approaches to problem solving and digging deeper into a subject, exploring new ways to arrive at a goal or testing ideas before making decisions.

“As with all maintenance functions, observe non-verbal cues to be sure you are not overdoing it.”

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