Good news leaders. My friend and leadership expert Vince Molinaro describes them as leaders who “prefer spin to reality.” They choose to “be in a state of delusion, rather than confronting what’s really going on.” If you present bad news to a good news leader, you get your head ripped off, so everyone pretends to live in a completely mythical universe of sunshine and rainbows.
If you work for a good news leader, you’re probably dreading the inevitable crisis that will result when the issues the boss has ignored finally take the team down. You’re not proud of it, but you have to survive, so you’ve learned to use wiggle words that allow you to clear your conscience by communicating enough to feel you’ve done your duty, but always in a way that sounds like the glass is three-quarters full. Or maybe the brainwashing is complete and you’ve embraced your boss’ sunny disposition. Regardless of how far you’ve slid down the slippery slope of delusion, you and your team are at risk.
What to do
Stand on Guard
First, it’s important not to give in to the good news boss. There is considerable risk to your team and your organization if you ignore warning signs of bad things to come. Keep reminding yourself of the risk and the cost of breathing the boss’ happy gas. You have an obligation to do your best to make the team successful and to protect the organization from undue risk. Even if you’re only trying to save your own skin, remember that if something ugly goes down, your smiles and rainbows boss will look like an idiot, but it won’t take long for people to ask what the heck you were doing watching it happen without doing anything to stop it.
Start with the Positive
If your boss likes to feel good and likes to look on the bright side, the only thing you’re going to get by playing the heavy is the cold shoulder. Alienating your boss by coming across as the downer or the buzzkill won’t work. Instead, meet your boss where he’s at by starting your conversations with positive and upbeat messages. Share his enthusiasm and excitement. Then you can slowly introduce issues, framed positively. “I am really excited about the new report format, it’s going to make things much easier for everyone. We know that the CFO really liked the old format, what can we do to make sure she is as invested in this new format as we are?”
Use Language to Your Advantage
Sometimes it’s less about the idea that you’re putting forth and more about the language. I’ve seen pitched battles over the use of the term “weakness” versus “opportunity for improvement” in performance reviews. Start building your good news glossary. Fill it with all sorts of ways of saying what you need to say in language that will be palatable to your boss. Replace “risk management plan” with “success formula.” Switch out “the forecast is looking bad” and put in “we need a new trajectory to win.” Scary words send your good news boss into an angry, defensive, self-protective place. So don’t use language that will trigger that reaction. Removing threatening language might keep your boss’ mind open just long enough for you to get some valuable information in.
Only someone who has worked for a good news leader can understand why this isn’t the best thing in the world. Sure, it feels great when the boss is doling out high fives. But when the risks that are systematically ignored come back to bite you in the butt, suddenly it doesn’t feel like so much fun. Unfortunately, many bosses succeed in spite of themselves and their good news story plays well up the food chain. You’re probably stuck with your good news boss for the long term. So get good at framing issues as just the tiny bumps on your road to success.
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