Cheerleader in the Workplace: Can you Handle the Truth?

Those of you that have been paying attention have realized that I draw many of my metaphors, examples, and philosophies from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  It was my guilty pleasure for a number of years, and I’m fairly certain that its humor-tinged angst is the proper perspective on life and an excellent guide to how to get by on a day to day basis.  And the necessity of fighting back armies of nasty, creepy crawlies emerging from the Hellmouth to wreak havoc seemed like a pretty apt metaphor for work in the non-profit world.  I believe we’re supposed to feel the most simpatico with Buffy herself, but I always preferred and felt more in common with Faith (the slightly more evil slayer), minus the combat skills of course.  Vampires I’ve got plenty of.

 As I read through my email inbox this morning, which is generally what I expect the prelude to apocalypse to feel like, every single morning (not that I’m bitter), I came to the abrupt and disturbing conclusion that I’m neither Buffy or Faith.  I’m a cheerleader.  God, I’m Cordelia Chase!  This is not the realization that a person who likes to imagine they are fighting the good fight against the forces of evil wanst to come to, but I’m introspective enough to admit it.  Admitting one has a problem is the first step to recovery, or so I’m told.

 I’ve tried to be Faith, or even Buffy.  Really, I’ve tried.  I hate bullies, particularly in the workplace.  I hate incompetence, and I don’t understand how it is often allowed to pass, and in fact, is rewarded.  I feel a future post on disgruntled employees here somewhere.  I want to stand for what’s right, rather than what’s convenient or what makes people feel good.  But I am forced to be a supportive creature despite deep reservations – a cheerleader.  Go team.  Rah.

 I don’t want to suggest that the workplace (including all the vendors, partners, collaborators, funders, and other interested parties that one has to deal with) is a soul-sucking, integrity-destroying cesspool of unwashed masses demanding ego-stroking for the slightest effort, praise for minor achievement, and celebration when people actually do the jobs they are paid for.  I don’t want to suggest it, I want to say it outright.  Far too often I am forced, in the interest of good relations and maintaining a slightly less stressful working environment, to send out a hokey email thanking everyone for a great team effort, deserved or otherwise.  I extol the virtues of teamwork and highlight individual efforts above and beyond their actual worth.  If you are paid to do a job, shouldn’t your pat on the back be your paycheck? I’m not sympathetic to the capitalist fat cats that get rich destroying the economy – that’s a different kind of bad behavior.  When I do a job, I do that job to the best of my ability and take pride in my work.  That does not seem to be the modus operandi in the workplace anymore.  Many only work as hard in proportion to the constant positive feedback they receive for their efforts.  And those efforts need not be too strenuous to expect one’s props.  I’m tired of celebrating mediocrity, yet I dutifully send out my emails applauding the merest efforts, because hey, it’s better than nothing.  In the Buffy universe, they would say “Hey, you hid when the monsters came at us, but at least you’re not evil”.  Rah.


Management experts extol the virtues of great leaders, and evidently great leaders spend a lot of time cheerleading.  It’s a psychological trick used to inspire others to achieve exceptional results.  Or is it?  Most experts consider the importance of morale and keeping staff positive.  There’s something to that, but where do you draw the line between cheerleading and constructive criticism.  And don’t kid yourself, nobody considers any kind of criticism constructive, particularly when it’s coming from the person who signs your paycheck.  This has given me some comfort in that my cheerleading efforts are not exactly what people think they are.  When I say, “Thank you Mr. Person X for pulling it together and doing slightly more work than actually defined by your job title”, I’m actually saying “Hey, Mr. Person Y, you didn’t do your job adequately, thus others had to pick up the slack” and “Boss of Mr. Person Y, you suck for allowing such an unequal distribution of work” or “Thanks for nothing, Dude”.  Next time you get an cheerleading email from your boss , try and read the subtext (if that’s not too much work), and take a few moments to reflect whether you were the exceptional one in the team effort, or you were “the Dude”. 

 Maybe I’m not Cordelia, after all.  Maybe I’m more like Willow.  Subtly snide.  Still fighting the good fight.  Trying to slay the ineffectual leadership of others.


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