The Bad News Leader



Leadership is really hard even when things are going great.  It’s even harder when things are not going so great.  And unfortunately it is inevitable that there will be a technological disruption, a downturn in the economy, a natural disaster or something else unexpected.  Great leaders lead through the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly.

I had a business review with one of our favorite clients on Monday to get caught up and to prepare for our upcoming leadership program.  “Mary” is just a character.  Because she is actually not in Talent Development – she runs Customer Service and Supply Chain Management for a multibillion dollar chemical company – she isn’t as well versed in the language of development and the buzzwords that are used in developmental conversations.

No, Mary is just a straight shooter and tells is like it is which I find refreshing and assuring because there is no guessing intent. Mary says what’s on her mind and addresses all issues head on.  Today’s topic was an interesting one; she has been getting a lot of feedback from senior leaders that the executives have all become “bad news leaders.”  When I probed to understand what that meant, she shared the following:

“Our executives have developed this very bad practice of only communicating when there is bad news and never communicating when the news is good.  Here’s a perfect example; cash flow was a big problem last quarter.  Oh my goodness, you can’t believe the emails, the town halls, and the calls asking about collectables, billable, and the inventory that had backed up a little as a result of the China slowdown.  We actually had senior leaders calling customers to ask them where the cash was…I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Mary went on to describe how demotivating it is and that every time another piece of bad news came out, the moods got worse and the tone of engagement deteriorated.

One of the reasons Mary mentioned this interesting phenomenon is that she wanted us to put in a learning module or exercise into the leadership program we are developing for a May delivery.

I told Mary that I would investigate some content or frameworks about this topic and present her with a few ideas for developing the capabilities of being a Good News Leader as well as, or instead of, just the Bad News Leader.

Interestingly enough, there isn’t a lot of data or information on this topic.  So based on our own experiences and the Best Practices we are going to build into the training, here are 5 tips to help you move away from being a bad news leader:

1) Don’t Avoid the Bad News, Just Find a Balance

The easy (but wrong) decision here would be to simply refrain from delivering bad news and burying your head in the sand.  That would make it worse.  Of course deliver the bad news but do it in a professional way, and of course look for ways to balance it out with the good news.

2) Be Authentic

Everyone knows when you are faking it and trying to be either more upset or trying to be nonchalant when delivering bad news.  Just be yourself and say what comes natural.

3) Celebrate the Successes

This is an “oldie but goodie” that still resonates today as it is more important now than ever before to build collaboration and teamwork through the celebration of successes. 

4) Don’t Make Bad News Personal

It is never effective to engage in the “blame game” when delivering bad needs.  Too many people think that when there is bad news the next step is “holding people accountable.”  As we all know personal grudges are formed easily and it’s easy to make things personal.

5) Collaborate to Discover Root Causes

At the heart of bad news is a problem. Collaborate to find the root cause of the problem that is causing the problem and solve it.  That is the best way to move from a bad news leader to a good news leader!


Robert Brodo

About The Author

Robert Brodo is co-founder of Advantexe. He has more than 20 years of training and business simulation experience.