Give Permission to Share Bad News

My friend Scott sent me a link this week to a great article from Harvard Business Review entitled “Are You Really Listening?”.   Please read it.

At its core, it suggests that leaders get lulled into thinking they “know everything they need to know about what’s going on in their organization”.  This can be very dangerous. 

They stop listening.

“Executives often trap themselves in information bubbles, a result of their overconfidence and outdated ideas about leadership.”

The offer suggests that leaders get themselves into a bubble that prevents them from listening well. And offers 7 useful steps that can help you break out of that bubble.  I only want to highlight one today.  

“Give permission to share bad news.”  

My opening words on almost every initiative, or project, I’ve been on, contains the warning “the worst thing you can do on my team is to hide the bad news. I expect honesty and timeliness. The time to raise the flag is not the 11th hour but the 5th hour. Tell me early and give me the real story – regardless of who is to blame.”

As a leader, or a project leader, our job is to listen and watch for the signs that something is going off the rails. Staying in a bubble will do no one any good.  If people are afraid to tell you the truth because you have given them the impression that you don’t want to hear about it, then you won’t hear about it.   

And that won’t work.

From this article… ““I wanted to create an environment where my direct reports trusted that they could tell me bad news without getting punished,” he says. “You have to treat your direct reports as partners, not as subordinates. Partners can talk about tough issues together and come up with a collaborative best response. I had periodic conversations with them when I just asked, ‘What’s going on?’ I wouldn’t be rushed. I’d take the approach of a counselor and coach, not a judge.”

Thanks Scott.    


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