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Bad News and Leadership – Part 2

Bad news girlIn the last blog article, I took at an example of best practice when bad news comes from within your team. However, bad news can also come from anywhere else. For example, it could be from external sources or the rest of the management team. Even changing business circumstances can (and should) make it obvious that action needs to be taken and change needs to happen. It doesn’t really matter what the nature of the change is, some will see it as bad news.

As before, you cannot avoid it and its potential impacts on your team. It is also highly unlikely that you are going to have all the answers at the outset. As always, honesty is the best policy. People will know when you are being cagey or hiding something. Being authentic as a leader is a vital quality that helps build loyalty and trust, particularly in times of uncertainty.

The other thing to bear in mind is that the bush telegraph in the office works very, very quickly. And on the back of very little information, some supposition and a whole lot of leaping to conclusions! This means that it is unlikely that you are likely to manage to keep things completely quiet. Therefore, communications and message management are going to become a key activities for you as events unfold.

As I said before, any change will be viewed as bad by someone in the team and you will need to explain what is going to happen. However, the key thing is the “why?” You must also describe the options you looked at, why the choice of that particular path was made and the benefits the change will bring. It is vitally important that your team appreciate that their leadership have explored all the options and made a rational decision, rather than one based on gut feel. It is also important that the team appreciate that the organisation is more important than any one member of it and that a fair solution to the issue has been sought.

Finally, you need to communicate all this:

  • use the most appropriate methods
  • present information in ways that all personalities can understand
  • be consistent with your message and be positive about the way forward

People look to their leadership for a sensible, rational way forward to a place that is better than where they are now. Your job is to communicate that vision and keep on communicating it. In fact, it isn’t possible to over-communicate about change, the rationale for it and where you are going as a team.

 

photo credit: Bad Girl via photopin (license)

Bad news and leadership – Part 1

Bad news is not the best thing in the world but as a leader but you do have to listen to it, deal with it, work with its implications, results and possibly take decisive action because of it. Over the next couple of blog articles I am going to look at aspects of how you can deal with different types of bad news as a leader. The first one of these is the type that can come from within your team or somewhere else in your organisation.

Picture the scene, and we have all been there: you are on the way to an important meeting or to do something else; your phone rings or someone approaches and you hear the words that mean that something potentially big is coming: “Hello, it is XXXX, have you got a couple of minutes?” Or “Are you aware of….”

The first thing to do in this scenario is get ready to listen. If someone is taking the (potentially brave) step of flagging something up to you, you owe it to them to listen and concentrate on what they are trying to tell you. This is one of those things that must be dealt with at the time it happens. You might have to shuffle your diary or change your plans to accommodate it, but you must find the time for it. If you don’t, then how valued do you think that person will feel? Even if you schedule a meeting later in the day with the person, the chances are the key message will be lost as the mood and motivation will have gone.

Part of getting ready for listening is getting the environment right. If the office is open-plan or the meeting happens on the shop floor, then the chances are that people won’t speak freely and the true problem won’t be identified. So, move somewhere with a bit of quiet and privacy and switch your phone to silent, or off, so you can focus on the person you are meeting with.

This may be a small issue that won’t take too much time or effort but also, it could be an “Enron” which could place the entire organisation in jeopardy but you won’t know until you get more information – lots more! So, before you start jumping to conclusions or planning solutions, get all the relevant information. Some personalities (in MBTI terms, ES’s and EN’s in particular) like to do their thinking “out loud” so won’t necessarily listen or gather all the data before they start speaking. This is a mistake in this scenario so give the person time and space to give you the whole story before coming to any conclusions. You may well find that you have to get information from other people or have to use some constructive questioning techniques to get to the root cause of what is going on.

The other key thing to find out is: what the person is hoping will happen as a result of the conversation. Obviously, some things are more possible/likely than others but you need to manage their expectations about the likely outcome at this early stage. If appropriate, you will also have to keep them updated as events unfold.

Finally, you need to promise some form of investigation or action to resolve the point(s) that have been raised to you. Sitting on it or ignoring it is not an option as it will lose both you and the organisation credibility. Taking action may harm you politically but if you are going to be an authentic leader, then you need to do something about it.

I know of a couple of organisations where a team flagged a particular circumstance that would have grave financial consequences to their leadership for 2 years before those circumstances actually happened. With a bit of analysis, planning and open communication, the organisations would have been in a far better shape to weather the financial storm that engulfed them. And the leadership of those organisations would be far more credible and supported in the future by those teams….

So, in summary:

  • Bad news can come from anywhere and you need to listen to all of it – particularly when it comes from within your organisation.
  • You may need to re-schedule or re-plan your day a result of spending time receiving it.
  • Listening is key before getting in to solutions/actions mode.
  • You then have to take action – ignoring it is not an option – even if it harms you politically.
  • Communications with key stakeholders, as ever, are key.