If you ask a successful leader to identify his or her primary job responsibilities, it is probably unlikely that “cheerleader” would make it onto a top five list. . . . but maybe those same leaders would be even more successful it if was.
From my perspective, strategy and organizational culture are two of a leader’s primary responsibilities — in effect, how can your organization position itself (change) to better fulfill your mission, and how can you motivate employees to embrace that change. Hmmm . . . sounds like a job for a cheerleader for change.
Change is hard — necessary to survive in today’s fast-paced environment, but hard none-the-less. If we as leaders can’t clearly and enthusiastically state, repeatedly, why a change is necessary, the task becomes even harder. Leadership expert John Kotter states that most companies under-communicate their vision by at least a factor of 10. Maybe there is a reason that cheerleaders repeat the same chant (or vision) over and over again.
Okay, so I’m sure some of you are thinking that being a cheerleader sounds a bit too “foo-foo” for a serious leader like you. Really? Kotter’s research also shows that 70% of all change efforts fail, and one reason is that leaders don’t get enough buy-in, from enough people in the organization, for the initiatives to succeed. How do you get buy-in? Clearly and enthusiastically state the goal, and then repeat it, again . . . and again. . . . and again.
It’s easy for people to get excited at the beginning of an effort, when the expectations are high, and the roadblocks are not yet apparent. It’s when you are a few quarters in, when the unexpected barriers and the crises du’jour zap your energy that you need to rally the troops around the importance of the effort. A good cheerleader can motivate a discouraged crowd to get back into the game, to stick with the effort through the inevitable ups and downs, to reach a successful conclusion.
For better or worse, as a leader, you set the tone for your team. If you are distracted, or visibly concerned, or lose enthusiasm, your team will too. That’s not to say you should fake enthusiasm. Rather, you should be so committed to your end goal that a few bumps or detours don’t dampen your resolve to reach your destination. I’ve yet to experience a project that went exactly according to plan, but when the goal is important enough, you find a way to get there. You have to be the cheerleader who challenges the team to dig deep and find another way around whatever is blocking your path.
Sometimes the difference between a successful change effort and an unsuccessful one comes down to the enthusiasm and determination of the (cheer)leader.
Limber up. It’s time to cheer!