Seek out bad news

bad news“No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.” ― Sophocles, Antigone

One way of communicating through the noise is to actively seek out bad news in your organization. Leaders who routinely seek out bad news are able to address problems before they fester and avoid major missteps in their organizations. However, people are often hesitant to bring bad news to their leaders. They fear looking bad. Or showing someone else up. They don’t want to disappoint. Or as Sophocles wrote in his play long ago, they fear being the messenger.

So what can you do as a leader to encourage a culture of honest feedback, where people are not afraid to deliver bad news? In her blog post: Six ways you can encourage feedback and get bad news from your team, Kristin Robinson of Brio Leadership has some excellent advice for leaders:

  1. Admit your mistakes.  Nothing is better than admitting your own mistakes to create an open and honest culture.  When the boss admits her mistakes, she makes it OK for others to do so also.
  2. Actively seek feedback.  Ask open and honest questions in meetings and then listen more than you talk.  Actively listen to each person, acknowledging the contribution.  Your position as boss connotes power over others, causing your team to be cautious of making you mad.  So, encourage your team to speak up.
  3. Control your emotions when receiving feedback.  Be hyper-aware of your body language and facial expressions when you receive feedback.  Killing the messenger by getting angry, cynical or mocking will ensure that person will never give you honest feedback again.
  4. Thank people for feedback. Sincerely express gratitude for opinions and observations you receive from your team.  Keep an open mind and consider the merit of what is offered.
  5. Spend time with the troops. Leaders who spend time walking around and talking to people who do not report directly to them open up communication and makes themselves real to the people who do the work. People are more apt to provide feedback to someone who appears emotionally and physically accessible.
  6. Hire an executive coach. One of the jobs of an executive coach is to help you seek feedback and learn more about yourself – your personality, your strengths and weaknesses, your mental models and habitual emotional reactions.  A coach will help you understand how and why others react to you and you to them.

How are you at seeking out bad news?  Here are some questions for you to consider:

  • Do I create a safe environment for my folks to report problems and concerns?
  • Do I really want to hear the bad news?  
  • Am I consistent over time in actively seeking and rewarding feedback?  

Anita Rios


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