Bad News Brings New Information

Over the past several months I have had the opportunity to observe individual鈥檚 behavior when I have told them that I was unable to do something for them or chose not to purchase their product or service. The responses have ranged from quiet anger to ignoring me to an attitude that continues to engage with me in hopes that we will be able to work together in the future.


Observe Your Team Member鈥檚 Behavior

You may have had similar experiences when you have had to give a team member bad news. Their reaction tells you a lot about their personal beliefs, maturity, and ability to work through problems. Suppose you have a team leader position open and two candidates for the job. You discuss the position with the two individuals, give it some consideration and make your choice. Once you deliver the bad news to the person who is passed over for the job, observe their behavior. Do they handle it appropriately and ask about future possibilities or get upset over sour grapes? If it is the latter, then you probably made a good choice and will want to reconsider making a similar future offer. If it is the former then you know you鈥檝e got someone with a clear head and positive attitude.

I have found that almost uniformly managers procrastinate in confronting difficult situations or delivering bad news. I often counsel them to look beyond the discussion to the positive aspects the outcome will bring. In addition, you can look at them as situations in which you will learn more about your team members. I鈥檝e also found that, sadistically, some leaders will invent bad news to test an individual鈥檚 response and loyalty.

Your Behavior When you Receive Bad News

Similarly, what is your behavior when you receive bad news? Do you try to find a positive element and continue to move forward? Most likely your boss is observing your behavior as well.

While inside you may be angry or struggling with disappointment, learn to cultivate a positive attitude that all situations鈥攑ositive and negative鈥攂ring learning. There is something positive in every situation and it is our job to figure out what it is.


  • Observe your team member鈥檚 behavior in response to bad news
  • Assess the values and beliefs behind the response
  • Cultivate a positive learning attitude as a part of your response to bad news

Keywords: leadership, resilience, positive attitude, behavior observation


  • Carver, C. S. (1998). Resilience and thriving: Issues, models, and linkages. Journal of Social Issues, 54(2), 245-266.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218-226.
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Finding a Balance in Your Leadership

Last week I attended the Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology (SIOP) conference, my favorite. For me, the resonant theme was achieving a balance鈥攊n many areas. It was particularly timely given my involvement with a client wrestling with a team of extraordinarily talented individuals who have difficulty working together.

I want to focus on three qualities in leaders which may be assets or liabilities, depending on how they are utilized and how well they fit the situation. These three qualities are strengths, openness, and mental ability.

Curvilinear Performance

Much has been written about the benefits of specific strengths in leadership. Some work has carried this research further, and revealed how often strengths become liabilities. Assertive leaders can cross the line to domineering. Technically knowledgeable leaders can become micro-managers.

The key here is to understand how your leaders are utilizing their strengths. Leverage these strengths but make sure they are held in balance with contrasting characteristics such as good listening skills and openness.

Which brings me to the next quality鈥攐penness. While I don鈥檛 have statistical evidence, I frequently hear executives praise leaders for their decisiveness and ability to bring issues to closure. This decisiveness is often accompanied with a low amount of openness, a factor of the Big Five, or Five Factor Model of personality.

We can easily imagine situations where a decisive leader, one with low openness may be good at making decisions but less effective when it comes to gathering information in order to make a well-informed and comprehensive decision.

We also must look at the specific task at hand. For example, the leader of a task force exploring future strategies must be open to new ideas and thoughts, i.e. have a high degree of openness. On the other hand, a group working to complete a long-term project requires a leader converging on solutions and closing the project down. These may require a low amount of openness. Here we can see situations where there may be an optimal amount of openness for each job.

Similarly, consider the leader鈥檚 level of intelligence and the relationship to their performance. We expect that leaders with low levels of intelligence will have lower performance than those of higher intelligence, and research bears that out. Interestingly enough, once a certain level of intelligence is reached, performance begins to decline with increasing intelligence.

While we can easily imagine the difficulties with a leader who is not too bright, it may be difficult to understand how too much intelligence becomes detrimental. Consider for a moment a brilliant executive with a high business acumen. While he may be good at business analysis and strategy, imagine he is unable to communicate this strategy and motivate his team to implement it. Illuminated in this fashion, his brilliance seems doomed to failure.

So it may be good to consider your own leadership style. Do you have strengths you are leaning on and therefore possibly overusing? How might you balance these strengths in order to move from being a good leader to a superior one?


  • When reviewing required leader characteristics for a job, consider the ramifications if a leader goes overboard on those characteristics.
  • When evaluating a leader, consider the leader鈥檚 strengths and the consequences if he or she overusing this strength.

Keyword: leadership, balance, strengths


  • Ghiselli, E. E. (1963). Intelligence and managerial success. Psychological Reports, 12, 898.
  • Kaiser, R., & Hogan, J. (2011). Personality, leader behavior, and overdoing it. Consulting Psychology Journal, 63(4), 219-242.
  • Kaiser, R. B., & Hogan, J. (2012) Personality, leader behavior, and overdoing it: Empirical links. In R. B. Kaiser (Chair), Theory-driven, personality-based leadership development. Symposium conducted at the meeting of Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology 2010, San Diego, CA, USA.
  • Kaiser, R. B., & Overfield, D. V. (2010) Strengths, Strengths Overused, and Lopsided Leadership. In R. B. Kaiser (Chair), The trouble with the strengths fad. Symposium conducted at the meeting of Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology 2010, Atlanta, GA, USA.
  • Kaplan, R. E., & Kaiser, R. B. (2009). Stop overdoing your strengths. Harvard Business Review, 87(2), 100-103.
  • Sharer, K. (2012). Interview by Thomas Fleming : Why I鈥檓 a listener: Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer. McKinsey Quarterly.
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