Deliver the News Not Just Advice

Bad News & Fish

… After Lunch They Both Can Smell Really Bad.

In my career, it feels as if I have flown about 27 billion miles. In doing so, I have had the opportunity to meet some great people in airplanes around the world. In one such encounter, I was fortunate to meet and chat with a well know Detroit Businessman. So, while the flight was brief, and uneventful, the conversation is one which has stuck with me now for decades.

The Chat is What I Call – “Deliver The News”.

As a young CEO, I was anxious to hear the wisdom of my airplane confined traveling acquaintance. Prior to departure, we had not previously met, but he was in fact well known to me. Having built a prolific and unblemished worldwide business career of success, all while based in the Motor City, he was a leader of leaders. On the other hand, I was a total unknown to him. Yet that day, he allowed me to be an equal as we chatted about People, Business and Parenthood.

After reaching cruising altitude, he suddenly turned the tables on me.  Energetically and emphatically he looked me in the eye. “…Let me tell you one thing I preach daily. Do you know how Bad News & Fish are alike?” With a puzzled look on my face, he quickly decided that we would need a much longer flight for me to correctly answer. Jumping back in, he quickly began one of life’s essential lessons. “Neither one will smell better after lunch – Deliver the bad news quickly so that we can deal with it.”

Stammering some level of brilliance that I am certain began with “But, But, But…”, I quickly executed the most brilliant action plan ever.

I Stopped Talking.

One insightful comment, one foundation to build a successful career on. It is now decades later. With what now feels like centuries of experience as manager and leader, those words have never been more true. The ability to deliver the news early and completely is what separates the Successful from the Befuddled. The efficient from the harried. With time come choices, options and an ability to act – not simply react.

Deliver the News Now-It Won’t Smell Better Later.

Soon the flight was nearing its end, so we exchanged pleasantries and well wishes for success. As we each turned to go our separate ways, he stopped me with one last thought and comment. “The same applies in being a Dad. Teach your son the same lesson, the lesson that no matter what the news, no matter how bad it may be, deliver it early. It will only feel worse, smell worse, get worse the longer you delay and try to hide it.”

Years later, I can still picture myself being “That Guy”. Yeah, the one stopped right in the middle of the jet way with his mouth wide open. As I stood there totally oblivious and blocking everyone and everything, I thought about what I had just learned. Deliver The News. So simple, so straightforward, but truer words have never been spoken.

So no matter any of our positions in life, Leader, Manager, Parent of Individual Contributor, DELIVER THE NEWS.
It won’t smell better later.

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