Effective leaders motivate others. That’s a key tool of a leader who knows how to lead well. When a leader creates and maintains momentum by their ideas, their ingenuity, and their actions, the rest of their team falls naturally into their rhythm. And that’s when the great work is accomplished.
But in any business, there are times when you are high on the mountaintops and times when you’re in the valley. So what’s a leader to do when bad news has to be shared?
1. Be a transparent leader – even if that means you aren’t always the cheerleader.
If your team only hears positivity, then they start to expect that. When the inevitable bad news comes, they’ll panic when you share that negative news. I didn’t understand this early on. I used to think I had to create momentum by always telling the very best version of our statistics, numbers, and growth. Frankly, I’d become a bit of a spin doctor – I wanted to be sure my team saw things only from the perspective I thought would keep the momentum going and the morale high. We work with some of the biggest churches in the country, and there’s a standing joke when asking about attendance, “Is that the Senior Pastor’s count, or the book keeper’s count?”
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of spinning to try to keep winning. But over the years, I’ve learned to share bad news regularly in a spirit of transparency with my team. Although we’ve posted robust growth for every year we’ve been around, morale is better based on company culture and by fostering authentic team relationships, rather than relying on the ups and downs of statistics.
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2. Speak up, even about the hard things.
When you have to share bad news, it doesn’t do any good to wait too long to share it or even avoid sharing the details. I used to worry that my team couldn’t handle bad news or that bad news would mean a lower opinion of me. What I’m learning is quite the opposite. People know that the world is broken. They understand that bad things happen. If the news is tragic, share as much of the story as you can. Maybe it’s a personnel problem, like someone being fired. Make sure you know what you can legally share, and then try to share the whole story without sweeping it under the rug. Because it can feel awkward or inappropriate, the temptation is to protect the parties involved or be vague about details.
When I see this temptation play out, I’m reminded of an old proverb in the Scriptures that says: “There’s a way that seems right to a man. And it is a way that ends in death.”
Here’s the truth: if you don’t tell your team what happened, it’s likely they’ll hear a fabricated version that’s worse than the truth. Sometimes what might work best is saying what didn’t happen: “John is no longer with us. We have asked him to leave based on his conduct. To be clear, he did nothing criminal and was not inappropriate physically with a coworker. But his behavioral choices have become a choice by him to leave the team.” Sharing the news before it becomes rumors earns you the respect of your team for trusting them with the information.
3. Keep your ears open.
If a problem arises, it’s ideal for the leader to address it first and guide the team towards a solution. But if you’re the last to learn about a problem, that makes it hard to speak up first. It’s essential to be aware of what’s going on in the trenches enough to know when there is a problem. As I lead my team at Vanderbloemen, I’ve learned to make sure I have people with ears close to the ground that can come to me and let me know if a problem is surfacing.
4. Own it.
Great leaders deflect praise and absorb blame. In my experience, that’s a rare trait that makes a big difference. Every time you have to deliver bad news, ask yourself, “What part of this can I own as my fault?” Also ask, “In delivering this bad news, am I blame shifting? Throwing someone under the bus unnecessarily?” The more you can own it, the more respect you’ll command and the quicker your team will work through whatever problem you’re facing.
5. Get on the solution side.
Problems and bad news don’t define leaders. Solutions do. Here at Vanderbloemen, one of our core values is “solution side living.” We’ve come to see that our team knows bad things will happen. But we’ve also come to see that what really gives them confidence in leadership is when the leader can name what the solution path to the problem is. When you deliver bad news, you don’t have to have the cure for cancer in your back pocket. All you need are a few simple steps that will show your team that you know a path, even if it’s only the first few steps, that will move the team through this valley, and perhaps prevent it from happening again.
My mentor tells me, “In this world, you will have many troubles.” As good as life is in this country and at our workplace, bad news will come. It won’t make or break you as a leader. But how you respond to it and communicate afterwards might be what raises your team and your leadership to a level that is higher than on the good news days.
This article was written by William Vanderbloemen from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.