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
- 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.
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 one.on.one, 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.