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(c) Tebe Interesno

Most of these “Leadership Proverbs” I’ve just picked up, absorbed and imbibed by some process of osmosis along the way and don’t know exactly whom they originated from. But when I know I’ll make reference, and when I don’t it’s not that I’m ungrateful or that I want to appear like a genius. It’s genuinely that I can’t remember.

This insight, however, comes by way of Andy Stanley.

Bad News needs to be Fast News

If there is some bad news that is coming your way, news that will mean last minute changes, critical decisions needing to be made under the pressure of time constraints and potentially unexpected fallout, then you want that news to come to you quickly so you maximise the time available. And you want it to be as accurate as possible when it comes so you can make the best decisions you can. This follows on from what we looked at last time, bad news is good news. Last time was outlining the basic outlook and attitude shift. This time we’re looking at how that attitude shapes what you do. If bad news is good news, then bad news also needs to be fast news. And it needs to be accurate news.

But if you think bad news is bad news, and if you treat bad news as bad news, and if you treat messengers of bad news badly, then most likely bad news won’t be fast or accurate. Or, over time, bad news will get slower and more hazy.

Here’s an example to illustrate how this might happen. Let’s imagine a leader comes to me and says, “In two weeks I’m not gonna be able to make it to our meeting.” Now I could respond by saying, “What!?! But we’ve had this booked for ages! You know it’s really important. I can’t believe this. What could be so important that you blah blah blah” And then for the next 2 weeks whenever I see them I could refer to how they’re not coming, or remind them how disappointed I am. What I’m teaching them is: the more notice you give Craig the worse it will be. Instead, wait until the last possible moment and then make it as vague as you can. I’m training them to instead say, “I might not be able to make it tomorrow.” I don’t want to know the day before that they may or may not be there. I want to know definitely and I want to know as early as possible.

I want to make sure I communicate to my team that I want information fast and accurate. What I could say in response to the news that they’ll be missing the meeting: “Thanks for letting me know. Is everything okay?” They’ll say whatever it is they’re going to instead, maybe a concert or maybe a funeral. Maybe they’re okay; maybe they’re not. But that response gives me a chance to show them that I care about them and what’s happening in their lives. If they have a totally legitimate reason, like their mum is dying and they want to spend as much time with her before she goes, then I’d respond in a certain way. But whatever the reason is, for them it’s more important than my meeting. So then I’d say, “Well thanks again for letting me know with plenty of time. I know you know how important this meeting is so this other thing must be really important, so if you have to go you have to go.”

That’s probably not the best response, but it’s better than the first one.

The other problem with hating bad news and shooting those who deliver it is you increase the level of anxiety in your team. It makes you unpredictable. “Is this news bad enough that I’m gonna get roasted? How much do I need to sweeten it so that it’s palatable? Will I get roasted anyway?” These kinds of questions make people less inclined to tell you the truth.

But if your response to news, good or bad, is to thank the messenger for the important information without any risk of reprisals then your response becomes predictable and you lower the anxiety and so you receive more and better information.

Bad news needs to be fast news. So you need to create an environment that is low threat so that your people are safe when they bring you bad news. You need information, especially bad news, fast and you need it accurate.