Most of us don’t like to be bearer of bad news, neither do we like to hear bad news. However, one of the most important things that you could do is to create a culture where the people you lead feel that it is fine to be the bearer of bad news – the earlier the better.

This is critical for the following reasons:

  • If there is any bad news, it is best if we bring it out in the open and deal with it sooner than later.
  • Most bad news are not as bad as they originally seem to be, when uncovered.
  • Bad news have a way of becoming progressively worse with time. So, the best and the easiest time to address it is when it is uncovered.
  • As a leader, you can then change expectations (yours as well as any other stakeholders) if needed. No one likes a bad surprise, specially, when it can’t be addressed and when shared in a group.

Some ways to create such a culture are:

Don’t Fire the Messenger:

One of the biggest mistakes that leaders do when it comes to creating an open culture is they fire the messenger who brings them bad news. The person who brings in the bad news is not the bad guy. To the contrary, you need to appreciate the person who brings forward the bad news – so that you can address it when it is the easiest to address it rather than allow the bad news to become worse.

Curiosity Never Killed the Cat:

As a leader, we need to be curious. Instead of reacting and playing to our emotions when we receive bad news, we need to become curious and use the power of inquisitive questioning to get to the root of the problem that led to the bad news. Once, the root cause is identified, it is much easier to address the same. There is a great book called Ask More by Frank SESNO and Wolf Blitzer, in which the authors cover the inquisitive line of inquiry through the power of asking the right questions. Each one of us who leads should read the book and learn the ability to ask the right questions.

Celebrate Success (with the Bearer of Bad News)

As a leader, once we have successfully address the underlying core problem that led to the bad news, we should call upon the bearer of bad news and celebrate with them. Ideally, I generally prefer to this in private as I don’t want everyone in my team to start searching for problems just because problem finding is publicly rewarded. If that happens, there is a good possibility that you will be inundated with a lot of bad news (which may or may not be as bad as they will make it to be).

Keep a Reminder: Bad News = Good News

It is easy for us to forget all of these and reach and sway to our emotions. So, if we know that it is difficult for us to stay in control when someone brings bad news, we can always create a plaque or something else that constantly reminds us that it is important that your team members actually feel that it is not just ok to bring you bad news but it is imperative that they bring it to you as soon as they possible.

Don’t come to me with a problem

Lastly, we need to be careful not to make the mistake of telling – “Don’t come to me with problems“. Once you start doing this, you can rest assured that you will never hear any bad news – you will only hear about catastrophes or disasters, that could have been averted.


Irrespective of what we say, our team will take cues from how we react. If we are genuinely inquisitive and express gratitude to our people who bring bad news to us, they will understand and start behaving in a way that will bring any potential bad news to you as soon as possible and you can then address them before they take a life of their own.