One of the key attributes of a leader is how to deliver bad news, be it the day to day management of helping a team member through a performance issue, to much more difficult areas like managing a crisis in the overall business.
My professional career began just prior to the dotcom boom. A few years after I started I was chatting with an older, and much wiser, colleague of mine about the merits of a particular persons management. I could see he had his doubts about this particular manager’s leadership ability and he finished up our conversation with a wonderfully percipient comment
“It is very easy to be a good manager in good times, lets see if he is a good leader in bad times”.
Of course it turned out that the person in question was thoroughly unable to lead when it came to tough times. Sadly, such a lack of leadership ultimately manifests itself as mediocrity. Dan Rockwell neatly sums this up in a nice article about personal transparency when he states “mediocrity arrives when difficult conversations are avoided.”
Sport is often a great place to look when you are looking for examples of how to approach leadership, and in particular how to deliver bad news. My favourite sport to watch is rugby, and having moved from Ireland a number of years ago I keep up with what is happening via newspapers and podcasts. When I was first thinking about this post a number of weeks back I listened to an interview with the new Irish coach, Joel Schmidt
It’s a long interview, but if you have time listen in from about 14:40 for five minutes. The key points are in how he addresses selection for the national team, and more importantly how he tells people. He always makes the call to the players not selected – it is never delegated, he is transparent about what the player is doing, what he likes, what he doesn’t like and what needs to improve. It is with this strong example that Schmidt drives his teams further, and prevents mediocrity from ever taking hold.
- Speak up
- Be accurate
- Take responsibility
- Say what you will do next
- Do what you say and repeat all the above
Bringing this into a more managerial context, smartblog has a nice post with suggestions from members of the Young Entrepreneur Council. Of these my personal favourites are
- Deliver the news directly
- Act fast
- Plan the information you want to communicate
- Be clear and direct
Most importantly though be prepared to be frank. The worst two things you can do in a difficult leadership situation are to put off and/or spin the conversation.