by CIO Staff

Champion the People and the Projects

May 02, 20055 mins
IT Leadership

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, the natural foods emporium, radiates enthusiasm for his enterprise. As an entrepreneur, he has leveraged his passion for produce into a portfolio of profits and in the process created one of the most admired companies in the nation. Routinely, Whole Foods makes Fortune magazine’s top 50 list as most desirable places to work. Mackey’s energy, which he communicates to journalists, managers and employees, helps drive the business forward.

Every successful organization needs someone in a leadership position to inject enthusiasm, energy and vitality into the process. Mackey fits that role nicely and his passion is to be admired.

Add Some Good Spirits

Those in leadership positions need to cheerlead their organizations. Cheerleading is enthusiasm channeled 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 energize people and impart a jolt of energy.

Cheerleaders are adrenaline inducers; you cannot help being charged by their presence. It’s a virtue that Sam Walton of Wal-Mart and Colleen Barrett of Southwest Airlines promoted through ceaseless interaction with employees at every level.

So how can you cheerlead for your organization?

  • Add zest. Inherent in leadership is the desire for improvement. You want your people to do well and succeed. Some managers think they can do this by shouting and browbeating. Those measures may work in the short term, but they either burn people out or encourage them to look elsewhere for employment. Those who stay have no other options. By contrast, managers who look on the bright side are those who affirm the value of people. 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.
  • Make it real. Choose cheerleading targets with care. Pick a goal that people can attain and focus the cheers on the goal as well as the people striving for the goal. For example, if your aim is quality improvement, provide your people with quality metrics. Sketch the landscape, e.g., who is better than you and why, then communicate the program. Monitor progress regularly. Post the results so people know where their team stands. Celebrate the wins. In this way, you are focusing your energy on helping people achieve their goals.

    Effective corporate cheerleaders do more than exhort; they participate in the workouts, that is, the heavy lifting that all projects require. When employees see their manager pulling alongside them, those cheers have more meaning than someone e-mailing a cheer from two floors away. (Note: Many managers, and virtually all senior managers, are forced to manage teams in different locations. While they cannot always be present, their challenge is to be fully engaged with their folks when they are.)

  • Back it up. Enthusiasm is good but it is necessary to reinforce it with a system that recognizes people. Take Southwest Airlines, one of the most relentlessly enthusiastic organizations in the world. The good cheer that attendants display toward customers (most of the time) is reflected in the employee-focused commitment management exerts on behalf of its people. Southwest is a public company but employees have a big stake; the company promotes from within. Recognition and reward are inherent in the culture. If you want enthusiasm to be contagious, you need to provide structure for people to contribute as well as grow and develop. Otherwise, the good cheer is nothing more shouting with a smile.

Add Judiciously

There are times when cheerleading can rub people the wrong way. Project failures or missed deadlines are not to be celebrated. Cheeriness in the face of layoffs or mergers may seem callous. And relentless enthusiasm in the face of a business decline will not only seem foolish, but downright idiotic.

There is another byproduct of cheerleading: affability. People who cheer are people.persons. They like to be with people and people like to be with them. Such affinity for others can promote strong bonds that hold the organization together. Not every manager nor leader possesses what network television executives call the Q.factor. But if you have it, you can make relating, or one-to-a-group, easier. You become the public face of the organization. However, no leader can be effective without inner resolve and a willingness to make the tough decisions about people, programs and products. That can be difficult for cheerleader types, so they must support those in the organization whose job it is to make such decisions.

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. You may seem like the Good Humor Man at times, but wouldn’t you rather work for someone who cares about people and wants to make them feel good than a dour, sky-is-falling type?

Not everyone agrees, but cheerleading for people and their work is a leadership plus that can rally staff to a cause as well as make them feel better about what they do. So give me an A for Attitude… a B for Best… and C for Class… well you get the point.