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Bringing Bad News

Here’s a truth: “No-one likes to bring bad news to a leader”

Ok I’m sure there’s exceptions if you’re the hyper critical, spiteful, “let’s find the faults” kind of people. But for the most part, people don’t like to bring leaders bad news. Now when I say bad news, I’m talking about the kind of feedback that isn’t cause for celebration and fireworks. Things such as, “I feel like we’re being worked too hard” or “I’m concerned that we’re not seeing the kind of outcomes we wanted”, or “I just can’t seem to get along with so and so”. This kind of news can relate to either the person, the work or to you, the leader.  It may not be ‘morally’ bad but it’s not certainly not celebratory let’s get out the piñata’ kind of news. Whilst no one likes to bring bad news, we do need to hear it. As leaders, we have the responsibility to make things better by solving problems and navigating tensions.

What I found during my recent leadership during Red Frogs schoolies is that this truth still exists. There seems to be an inbuilt resistance from people to bring bad news to their leaders even when it’s invited. In order to lead the best, we need to make the right decisions. And to make the right decisions we need to have the right information – this includes the proverbial ‘bad news’.

Here’s some practical tips on how to create space where people can share the bad news:

  1. Invite it in. Explicitly communicate that you are open to receiving people’s successes and struggles. Trust is everything in leadership. It is the currency we trade in. We need to love our people well by letting them know explicitly that they can come to us with anything they’re going through, even if it’s related to us.
  2. Plan for it. Explicitly communicate the avenues by which they can provide feedback to you or those in your leadership team. To know that you can share feedback but not know the right avenue is just as ineffective as knowing the right avenue to share it but not trusting the leader enough to say it. Are there meetings, or time slots, or forms that you can hear what the people are saying?
  3. Remind constantly. Continually remind them that these above avenues and postures are there. This kind of open leadership whilst not rare is still not uniform. Some people will take a while to be convinced or reminded that you actually care what they’re going through so remind regularly.
  4. Chase after the information. You know what information you need in order to lead best. Often people don’t willing gravitate towards sharing the struggles they experience with you, themselves or the work. Therefore, you have to know how to chase after it down. Asking the following questions can be super helpful in identifying any ‘bad news’.
    1. Is there anything that you’re hesitant to tell me right now?
    2. If things continued as they currently are, would you experience ongoing joy or ongoing frustration?
    3. Is there anything bugging you? (taken from Andy Stanley)
  5. Communicate publicly but pursue privately. Many people may not feel confident to share in front of others but will do so one on one. Even a short phone call or short aside conversation is enough to create the space where people can share if there’s anything that needs addressing.

I hope these might be of some help. I truly believe leaders need to listen in order to lead well. Next week we’ll look at what’s at stake if we don’t listen to people’s bad news.

THE TAKE HOME

Because no-one likes to bring bad news, we as leaders need to create, foster, and pursue safe spaces for people to provide feedback.

On Side note: If you’re the kind of leader who doesn’t like to hear bad news even when it’s happening, then I have bad news for you. Change your approach or change your role. People matter too much to be lead by someone who won’t make time to listen.