Leaders can learn a lot from FDR.
A champ in many ways, he was at his most masterful where bad news was concerned—and there was a storm of it while he was president.
In April 1942, he told a radio audience that, due to war, "everyone will have the privilege of making whatever self-denial is necessary."
FDR provided no sugarcoating.
“The blunt fact is that every single person in the United States is going to be affected."
But he went on to say, "'Sacrifice" is not exactly the proper word with which to describe this program of self-denial. When, at the end of this great struggle we shall have saved our free way of life, we shall have made no 'sacrifice.'"
Americans responded patriotically.
Leaders are like that. From fails to fiascos, downturns to downsizings, they have the steady job of delivering bad news.
Georgetown University management professor Robert Bies recommends these 10 rules for mastering your delivery of bad news:
- Never surprise anyone. You’re shirking your duty by keeping bad news to yourself.
- Never stall. “Bad news delayed is bad news compounded,” Bies says.
- Never cover up. Withholding information will only lead others to draw false conclusions.
- Always put it in writing. A paper trail will one day be important.
- Always justify. Provide “specific and concrete reasons for the bad news.”
- Always give hope. Emphasizing the positive and temporary aspects of bad news can boost morale, as FDR knew.
- Always offer solutions. Solutions put the focus on future improvement. “Bad news without solutions is truly bad news.”
- Always consider every audience. “Remember when delivering bad news that the news never reaches just one; it reaches many.”
- Always follow through. “Bad news involves cleaning up a mess. After cleaning, let everyone know. Now the news is no longer bad; it is good.”
- Always show respect. You’re not just communicating bad news; you’re communicating it to human beings.
I was laid off, fortunately, only once in my career.
While, as an executive at the company, I was privy to the financial setbacks that preceded the event, when the bad news arrived, via telephone on the Monday before Thanksgiving, the very first thing I was told was that “the decision was easy.”
I grasped at the moment the words that were said (“Marketing is a luxury”).
I’ll never grasp why they they were said.