How to Be Honest When It’s Hard

19.07.2020 |

Episode #1 of the course Ten essential traits for today’s leaders by Frank McKinley


Welcome to the course!

My name is Frank McKinley. I’ve been in leadership for a long time, and I’ve found ten essential traits that make or break leaders. You’ll learn them all in this course, and how to easily integrate them into your own leadership. Ready to begin?

Your parents probably taught you to be honest.

“Tell me the truth. Did you eat all the cookies?”

If you know you’re headed for trouble, you might lie to avoid it. But if your mom knows you’re lying, you’ll be in more trouble. If you tell the truth, you can be punished and move on.

When the truth is pleasant, it’s easy to share:

“You did a great job with those reports today.”

“Your suggestion made the company an extra $20,000 in profit. We can’t thank you enough!”

“You really handled that customer’s complaint beautifully. We might have lost her without your help.”


Delivering Bad News Is Tough

Here are two times I experienced bad news:

Bad news #1

One night I came to work and was told to wait before I clocked in. My coworker said, “I don’t like this.”

I joked, “What’s the worst they can do? Fire us?”

I sat down with my supervisor and the regional manager. “We’re closing the department effective immediately. We’ll pay you for tonight and tomorrow. You’re free to go.”

I left feeling like I’d been sucker-punched in the stomach.

Bad news #2

The company I worked for was three stops into a tour of twelve cities.

My boss gathered us together and said, “Guys, I’ve got to be honest. We’re not doing well. I’ve made some mistakes. We’re almost a million dollars in debt and I can’t dig us out before the season ends. I’m sorry but at the end of May, I’ll have to lay you off.”

It was the middle of February. I had three months to save some money and find a new job. It was a bit of a shock but time was still on my side.


How to Deliver Hard News Well

I’m sure you’ll agree that the bad news the second company delivered was better than the first. Let’s look at why.

First, deliver the news with dignity. Our boss knew this would hurt us. We’d have to look for jobs, so he gave us time to do that. He offered to give us good references. He even gave us a little money at the end to tide us over.

Contrast that with being fired on the spot.

Second, take the blame for your mistakes. It’s tempting to cover up when you’ve done something wrong. But if you were sincerely doing your best, you’ll find people will sympathize with you.

If you lie, they’ll feel betrayed. Do it consistently and no one will trust anything you say.

Trust is hard to earn. Don’t throw it away by being selfish. Tell the truth because you care—even if it’s ugly—and your team will do anything to help.

Third, always let people know you care. If you’re enforcing stricter safety rules because people are getting hurt, don’t threaten to fire them for disobedience. Say something like this:

“Accident rates have risen 40% from last year. Our insurer has dropped us and the new provider wants $40,000 more. All that makes me angry, but one thing really breaks my heart—making the call to your mother, father, or spouse and having to tell them you’ve been hurt or killed in an accident. We’re so serious about safety because we care about you. So if any of you take this lightly, you will not have a job. Is that clear? We love you guys. Be safe.”


Now It’s Your Turn

How can you deliver bad news with dignity?

Are you willing to take the blame for the problems you’ve caused?

How can you show people you care even though this change is hard on them?

Answer these three questions whenever you deliver hard news. If you can be honest in the hard things, people will trust you with good things.

In the next lesson, you’ll learn how to communicate like a pro.

Lead well,



Recommended book

Radical Honesty: How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth by Brad Blanton


Share with friends