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Bad News Doesn’t Get Better with Age

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In a business, you have to deal with reality. You have to make decisions based on the way things are, not the way you might wish they were. To really have an open culture, that means being willing to hear when things aren’t working, too, and not just the good news. You can’t ignore your problems and hope they will fix themselves. Bad news does not get better with age.

A true leader wants to know the truth, and that means hearing the bad news along with the good. In a real open culture, team members need to feel comfortable presenting bad news. In fact, they should be encouraged to do so! Chris Morris writes for CNBC about creating an open culture at a new business: “Everyone should be able to point out that the emperor has no clothes.”

It’s important to realize that mistakes are ok. Any business requires risks—and no business makes the right decision every single time. The key is to identify your mistakes right away, and take steps to correct them. Ignoring problems just allows them to fester and get worse. Denial won’t solve a problem; only accepting responsibility and working on a solution will.

Everyone on your team should be acting as watchdogs for the business, looking for problems and mistakes, and then offering solutions. Everyone should feel free to be brutally honest about what is going on. An open culture is built on trust, and trust only works if everyone involved is watching out for each other and telling the truth at all times. Glossing over negative details might be easier in the moment, but will just lead to further troubles down the road.

But remember: it’s not about assigning blame. It’s about solving problems. If something doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean that the people involved should be punished; it just means that they tried it and it didn’t work. And that’s ok! Better to find out whether something works and identify problems right away than to keep pouring time, effort, and money into nonproductive activities.

We learn more from losing than from winning. We learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. When everything goes right, we don’t learn much, except that things worked in this one incident—and we often learn the wrong lessons when we learn anything at all! But we learn a lot from our mistakes, because we are motivated to identify what went wrong and how to avoid making the same mistake again. Bad news doesn’t get better with age, but it does take you one step closer to success.

Published: December 20, 2012
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Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton is an entrepreneur and NFL Hall of Famer, and the founder of Tarkenton Companies. Successfully starting and running more than 20 companies spanning a wide range of industries, Fran is a passionate advocate for small business owners and entrepreneurs. The product of all of Fran’s experiences is Tarkenton, which has partnered with major enterprises for more than two decades, bringing a combination of strategic thinking, operational excellence, and fast-paced action to complex business problems. Fran is the driving force between GoSmallBiz.com, Tarkenton Financial, and Tarkenton Private Capital.

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