Monday, February 28, 2011

Beware of Cheerleaders

Have you ever worked with a cheerleader? 

They’re very clever, and if you can’t bring them back to reality, they can be very difficult to get rid of, because everyone loves them, and if they’re really clever, they can deflect all of their shortcomings on to their immediate manager or general manager, so no one necessarily realizes that they are a cheerleader.

Cheerleaders hide their inadequacies by being overwhelmingly positive.  Staff initially love them because they are so friendly, so positive, and they appear to be so supportive of staff issues and/or concerns.

Unfortunately, they cannot deliver the bad news, they cannot hold people accountable, and as a result they are ineffective as managers or leaders, and they get almost nothing done, or at least nothing of any substance.

Sometimes the staff will figure things out, given enough time, and, depending on the team dynamics of the rest of the leadership team.  They will come to see that this person is indeed very positive, empathetic, etc., but the same issues have been raised repeatedly and nothing has changed, nothing is being done to resolve the problem.

I’ve worked with two cheerleaders in my career and in both cases I spent a disproportionate amount of time managing these two people, each of which were division heads within their respective hotels.  They never got things done on time, and they were always ready with a series of excuses and reasons to validate why they could not accomplish what everyone else on the team could.

And because, as I said earlier, they are incapable of delivering the bad news or providing constructive criticism or discipline, I had to repeatedly follow up on issues that would arise with their staff members, which they in turn would fail to follow up on, repeatedly, again offering reasons why it “wasn’t the right time” or other excuses, to the point where I had to get directly involved, or, insist that HR get involved to “help” these senior managers to have what should have been a simple conversation with a staff member or manager who was not performing to an appropriate level.

Another symptom of the cheerleader is that everyone who reports to them has a perfect performance review – there is nothing that his or her team members need to improve upon, they are all 10 out of 10, and as I already referenced, often, when someone else needs to step in to bring a little reality to the situation, they are seen as the devil, because of course, until they came along, everything was perfect.

Ironically, the cheerleaders see nothing wrong in their behavior or their tactics.  When confronted with the observation that their department is in fact performing increasingly poorly, as a result of poor performers being tolerated and star performers becoming increasingly disillusioned because sub-performers are not being dealt with, and they can see the decline in standards and service, the move towards managing to the lowest common denominator, and they want no part of it, the cheerleader is perplexed and in a state of denial.  How can this be?

Things are great, until they’re not, so don’t be fooled by the cheerleader.  Not to suggest that every manager who gets along with their staff is a cheerleader, hardly, but it’s about balance, so watch for the signs and make sure that the members of your leadership team possess the necessary skill-set to provide balanced leadership to their teams.

There’s a reason cheerleaders are often found on the side lines, instead of “in the game.”  They are fun and entertaining, but do they influence the outcome of the game?  I think not. 

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