Clap for Me (v.2)

There’s nothing wrong about recognizing hard work and celebrating success. Teams that withhold praise are hard to work with. However, I often feel that there is something disingenuous about leader-led mandatory cheerleading.

I can think of a few explanations for why leaders mandate cheerleading for coworkers:

  1.  You think your team is gullible and you want to pay them with pats on the back and applause from their peers.
  2. You think your team is emotionally needy.
  3. You don’t know what success is, so you reward completion

First Example: A team has executed a really successful action plan and presents their findings to their leader. Their leader asks the team to clap for themselves and then get back to work.

For 1: You need to get real. An encouraging atmosphere is great, but group applause doesn’t last. What’s worse, employees usually know what you are doing and act to that effect. You run the risk of reinforcing externality and fame-seeking, and diluting success with simplicity. A team focused on externality tries to predict and satisfy leader whims, not meet outcomes.

For 2: Even if your team is needy, their desire for cheerleading doesn’t make it any less demeaning when you comply. Reality being reality, you might have to cheer for a demoralized, needy team. While you can’t take personal responsibility for their maturity, you can craft a culture that reinforces or challenges their dependence on cheering. 

At it’s heart, the first two reasons of corporate cheerleading seem to echo belief in the inferiority of the masses. That belief might manifest itself cynically (see 1.), pseudo-empathetically (see 2.), or finally in complicit ignorance where one carries on the traditions of the past.

For 3: Take this example: You’ve just had a tenured employee present on a long-standing problem their unit is facing, concluding with their recommendation to solve it by keeping present course, afterwards the executive of the department stands up and asks the department to applaud the presenter.

If you’re here and you know you’re doing this. Stop it. Talk to your peers and leaders about what goals are worth celebrating if you need perspective. You might decide that the effort to present is worth celebrating, but don’t let your team confuse cheerleading for presentation skills for your recognition of successes.

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