The Cheerleader

A Project Manager who focuses on making sure everyone on the project is happy, rather than if the project will be successful.

  • Can mutate into: “The Optimist” Project Manager
  • Dangerous when coupled with: “The Peacemaker” Development Manager
  • Likelihood of fixing: High
  • Danger to project: Low

Problem

High morale is important in the execution of any project, as project members will tend to be more creative and productive when morale is high. When a project is doing badly, it is natural for the morale to drop until the situation on the project improves. During these times, rather than focusing on fixing problems on the project, the Cheerleader project manager focuses on improving morale.

The Cheerleader and The Optimist Project Managers share the characteristic of positivity, but how this manifests is fundamentally different:

  • The Optimist is ignoring of any problems facing the project, and is feeding bad information to stakeholders.
  • The Cheerleader sees project success exclusively in terms of morale: Low morale is a failing project; High morale is a successful project. The stakeholders themselves are an afterthought if they are considered at all.

The Cheerleader Project Manager is very easy to spot:

  • They will spontaneously show up with treats like coffee and donuts.
  • They will declare it important that everyone have one-on-one meetings with their managers “so that they are being heard”.
  • They will tend to lead conversations towards the personal, wishing to speak about people’s life outside of work (thinking this may be a source of unhappiness).
  • They will send positive emails, post positive posters around the office, and generally represent an overly positive attitude.
  • They will argue for better office furniture, better lighting, and generally a better working environment.
  • They will bear the torch against poor working conditions, such as few career path options, insufficient staff training, and working overtime.
  • The will arrange after-hour social gatherings with the team unattached to important project milestones.
  • They are very concerned about being well liked by project members.

This may seem like exactly what someone would want in a project manager, but there are two causes for concern:

  1. These activities only offer a temporary boost in morale, which fades quickly once people are reminded of project realities.
  2. They are not addressing the root causes of any low morale, preferring instead immediate short-term morale boosters.

In this way, The Cheerleader ends up being well liked, but are not really doing the job of a project manager.

Solution

The core problem is that The Cheerleader does not have many tools in their belt, as they typically do not have much experience as project managers. The solution, therefore, is to give them more tools by providing training. Fortunately, there are staggering amount of resources available for project managers to learn how to manage projects.

With their new tools in hand, encourage them to focus on discovering the root causes of why morale is low, rather than trying to “fix” low morale. Once discovered, empower them to fix the problems. Considering that their natural inclination is to help people feel better, they will take to finding and fixing root causes aggressively once they know what to look for.

At this point, you will have a very potent mix in a project manager: someone who uses morale as a meter to look for problems in the project, and then tracks down these problems and fixes them. Because their motivation comes from compassion towards their fellow human, problems at the root cause of low morale will be quickly stamped out.

Incidentally, it is in their nature to be kind to others, so it’s unlikely they will stop the positive aspects of being a cheerleader, so “fixing” them should not eliminate their good parts. Indeed, if there is to be investment spend in grooming a project manager; one could do worse than to start with The Cheerleader.


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