The Good News About Being the Bearer of Bad News

Good leaders handle bad news quickly and personally.

Step 1: They make an immediate assessment of what went wrong, the extent of the problem or damage, and the causes.

Step 2: They put in place a temporary solution to stem the blood flow, and set a schedule for follow-up remediation.

Step 3: They notify the parties that are directly affected. Superiors should be notified almost immediately — certainly within 24 hours, but after the first two steps have been completed. Employees should be notified next. And if the bad news impacts them, customers, too, should be notified.

I nearly fired a promising young executive — several times, in fact — because he was so reluctant to tell me bad news. He never volunteered negative information. He’d wait until I heard about it some other way and asked him about it. He gave me honest answers. And he’d always taken the first two steps I mentioned above. But the mere fact that he didn’t have the nerve to tell me about a problem made me uneasy. We talked about it several times. And he’s better at delivering bad news now. That’s good for me and good for his career.

Any business leader can look good when things are going smoothly and profits are climbing. It’s how you handle yourself when things go wrong that defines your character.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]