Things our bosses do that make us stupid (part 6 of 6 ) – hiding bad news

Oh, the many things that make the workplace a stupid place. We’ve already discussed 5 of them in this blog series – here’s the last of them, for now.

Our last stupid-making boss activity is hiding bad news. Some leaders and business managers think you can’t handle the truth, and I believe there are several reasons why they hide bad news:

  1. They don’t trust you to deal with the bad news in a mature fashion.
    I think it’s dishonoring to hide bad news from me. It implies that I will be better off in ignorance. I don’t think I’m EVER better off in ignorance, though. And how can I help to address or solve a problem I don’t know about?
  2. They’re still trying to figure out a way to spin the news.
    Granted, there is a certain level of PR skills that might be needed. “We’re laying off 100 people and good riddance because we finally have an excuse to get rid of the dead weight in the organization” probably isn’t good communication, even though it might be honest. Tell people the facts, and if they want to tell themselves stories about it, that’s something you can address with time.
  3. They don’t want the bad news to reflect negatively on them.
    Don’t have to say much about this. Leadership can be an exposed and lonely place when things aren’t going well. Holding onto bad news, however, makes that loneliness worse.
  4. They don’t have the patience to address the questions and concerns you’re likely to have when the news is shared.
    Nor do they get the benefit of the creativity, initiative, and motivation that might result from sharing the challenge of making things better. I used to do business turnarounds and inherited some of the most dysfunctional organizations imaginable. I didn’t make things better by pretending, and when we agreed on a vision, people were more than happy to make the sacrifices and changes that were needed.
  5. They’re afraid you’ll think the company is doomed and you’ll walk out the door.
    Well, O.K. maybe the company IS doomed. But does that mean you should keep your people tethered to the company under false pretenses? And people aren’t usually as anxious to rush out the door as we think they are. Give them the use, be curious about their responses, and talk about options for turning lemons into lemonade.

I was once charged with the lovely task of closing down a retail store that had been located in a miserable location. I brought my crew together, and after commiserating for a little while about how much the situation sucked, we came together and said: “let’s do the best job we could possibly do of shutting down this store.” And we did do a good job, and we even laughed through the process and came out of it with our dignity intact, and some great lessons learned. It was an amazing lesson for me in how even difficult circumstances can create an outlet for intelligence and creativity to flourish.

Share all the news you can share. People are only as smart insofar as what they see and understand.

About the Author

Sarah Thomson

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