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?"

About the author

Johanna Rothman's picture Johanna Rothman

Johanna Rothman, known as the “Pragmatic Manager,” helps organizational leaders see problems and risks in their product development. She helps them recognize potential “gotchas,” seize opportunities, and remove impediments. Johanna was the Agile 2009 conference chair. She is the technical editor for Agile Connection and the author of these books:

  • Manage Your Job Search
  • Hiring Geeks That Fit
  • Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects
  • The 2008 Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management
  • Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management
  • Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People

Johanna is working on a book about agile program management. She writes columns for and projectmanagementcom and blogs on her website,, as well on

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