Tired of hearing bad news all the time?
Even in growing and ‘successful’ organizations, leaders receive a disproportionate share of bad news.
Why is that?
As I tell my staff team all the time, we get paid to solve the problems no one else knows how to solve.
Sure, that’s a bit of an exaggeration; there are lots of incredibly smart people who are not on staff who solve problems in our ministry every day. But to a certain extent, if you’re a leader, your job is to solve problems. And often, they’re big ones.
Which means you’re the one who daily absorbs a lot of the tension on behalf of others.
And if you’re like me, you go through seasons in which you think to yourself “Can’t anybody tell me some good news?”
Eventually, bad news even impacts your spirit.
Ever wonder if there’s a better way to handle it?
While there are many ways to approach bad news, here are 6 that have really helped me as a leader.
1. Name reality—even if it’s brutal
As Jim Collins has famously said, it’s a leader’s job to confront the brutal facts and name reality.
That’s hard to do. Because instinctively, most people want to pretend bad news isn’t true. It’s just easier to live in denial.
But pretending something isn’t true doesn’t make it false. But many leaders try anyway.
Which is always a mistake, and as Collins points out, often a fatal one.
The best leaders jump on all the facts and direct their course accordingly.
2. Don’t let the bad hijack the good
Bad news is a hijacker. If you let it, it will steal your joy.
If you’re like me, a bit of bad news can hijack your mood, your motivation and even your day.
I launched a leadership podcast a few months ago and people have been incredibly (and I mean incredibly) supportive. I always encourage people to leave a review, and so far many have. People have said some amazing things. Of all the reviews, only one listener has really said anything moderately critical, which it totally that person’s right (she had a valid point).
But guess what I’ve done? I’ve almost memorized that one critical review (I’ve read it so often).
So…of the 128 reviews so far on iTunes, why didn’t I memorize 10 (or 127) of the positive ones? What’s wrong with me?
Likely the same thing that’s wrong with you…I let the bad hijack the good.
When you let the bad hijack the good, you kind of invalidate all the good.
I’m not talking about not reading the negative or ignoring it. I’m just saying, don’t let it trump everything else. There’s a lot of good out there. Really.
3. Don’t hide the truth
So things aren’t going the way you want them to go.
It’s one thing to admit how things are going to yourself; it’s another thing to acknowledge it to others.
I still have to fight the instinct to keep bad news a secret. You know why I want to keep it a secret? Because I think it reflects poorly on me as a leader.
Ironically, being honest about bad news doesn’t make you a poor leader, it makes you a better one.
So who should you tell?
The right people, which is basically the people who are in a position to do something about the bad news.
Maybe it’s your staff, your key volunteers, your board…whoever. Tell them. Honestly.
You’ll have to fight the urge to bury the truth or shade it or spin it. Fight it with everything you’ve got. Everyone will be far better for it.
Just because you shouldn’t tell everybody doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell somebody. The right people need to know.
4. Unload the gun
It’s tempting to want to shoot the messenger. Don’t.
You may have an emotional reaction. You’re human. Just don’t share that reaction with the person who told you.
Many leaders end up feeling lonely, isolated or misinformed because people are afraid to tell them what they don’t want to hear. This is exactly how that happens.
So instead of getting angry at them, thank them.
Similarly, when you share the information, avoid blame. Don’t shoot people or events or culture or whatever you’ll be tempted to shoot at something or someone to justify the bad news.
If you want to see what happens when you stop making excuses for bad news and start making progress, listen to Josh Gagnon’s story about how Next Level Church in New England has grown to 2,000 people in four locations in 6 years in a region famous for ignoring the Gospel. They refuse to make excuses, blame others, or otherwise justify failure. It’s inspiring.
5. Decide on an action step as soon as possible
Now that you’re out of the excuse business and the hiding business, it’s time for action.
One of the reasons bad news linger as long as it does is because we take no action over it. Like a bad odour in your kitchen garbage, you can complain about it or you can simply take the trash to the garage.
The best thing you can do with bad news is to decide on an action step.
There’s always good information inside bad news.
Not growing? Diagnose the problem as quickly as you can (here, for example, are 10 reasons why churches don’t grow) and work to a solution.
Someone angry with you? Figure out why, own it, and walk into their office or pick up the phone and apologize.
Givings down? Stop complaining and devise a strategy.
The faster you decide to act, the faster your mood will change.
Knowing about a problem is entirely different than solving a problem. Even though not every problem has a clear solution, doing something is major progress.
In some cases, the action step might be to decide there is nothing you can do about the problem and the best thing you can do is leave it and move on. But even that’s a step. A much better step than moaning about an issue for another week, day or even hour.
6. Make ALL news your friend
I’ve been using the term bad news throughout this post. But as my friend Rich Birch once told me, there’s no such thing as bad news, only news.
Bad news can make you think you’re worse than you actually are. And good news can make you think you’re better than you actually are.
So why not just treat all news simply as news?
That way, you’ll be able to spot the warning signs in good news (they’re always there) and the hope in bad news (yep…it’s there too…you just have to look hard).
When all news is your friend, you can roll up your sleeves and get to work. Which is exactly what you’re called to do as a leader.
What Do You Think?
What are you learning about bad news, good news and your responses as a leader?