It Is What it Is: When the Boss Refuses to Hear the Truth

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When I was a kid, my Dad took me and my brother to see The Wiz, a film version based on the theater production of the same name, and a contemporary update of the classic film The Wizard of Oz.

The movie starred Michael Jackson and Diana Ross; Quincy Jones was the film’s musical supervisor and music director. Buzz for the project was intense, and I remember getting to the theater and finding people were literally lined up around the block to see the show.

Even so, the movie was panned by the critics, and I don’t recall too much of note, except for one thing — the part where Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, sings Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News” to her oppressed minions.

Check out the lyrics:

When I wake up in the afternoon

Which it pleases me to do

Don’t nobody bring me no bad news

Cause I wake up already negative

And I’ve wired up my fuse

So don’t nobody bring me no bad news

 

If we’re going to be buddies

Better bone up on the rules

Cause don’t nobody bring me no bad news

You can be my best of friends

As opposed to payin’ dues

But don’t nobody bring me no bad news

 

No bad news

No bad news

Don’t you ever bring me no bad news

Cause I’ll make you an offer, child

That you cannot refuse

So don’t nobody bring me no bad news

 

When you’re talking to me

Don’t be cryin’ the blues

Cause don’t nobody bring me no bad news

You can verbalize and vocalize

But just bring me the clues

But don’t nobody bring me no bad news

 

Bring some message in your head

Or in something you can’t lose

But don’t you ever bring me no bad news

If you’re gonna bring me something

Bring me, something I can use

But don’t you bring me no bad news

 

See no evil, hear no evil

The Wiz debuted in 1978. Ten years later, after I graduated from college and entered the workforce, the lyrics to “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News” started routinely popping into my head. They’ve since taken up permanent residence there.

Why? If I had a nickel for every leader who claimed he wanted to hear the truth but actually wanted no such thing, I’d have a helluva lot of nickels.

Unlike Evillene, who was at least clear in her position, these leaders won’t claim this theme song directly. However, their reaction to your truth telling speaks volume — approach them with bad news at your peril. They’ll shoot the messenger and anyone who happens to be standing next to the messenger, too.

Perhaps not surprisingly, these will be the same leaders who’ll become incensed when a problem blows up and then causes all kinds of preventable confusion, as well as more and different problems.

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I want to say to these leaders — you can’t have it both ways. If you don’t want “nobody bringing you bad news,” then get prepared for the fallout that’s coming, because bad news is a fact of life (and business) and it needs to be handled before it becomes disastrous news.

Leadership is not for sissies

I’ve seen leaders try to transform fiction into fact by sheer force of will (or judicious use of language). It doesn’t work. Even the famous Emperor, with all of his power, eventually had to face the reality of his nakedness.

To paraphrase one well-known motivational speaker, leadership is not for sissies. Leadership is hard and executed best by those with courage and the willingness to look trouble in the eye, determined to kick its butt, if necessary.

If you rule like Evillene (a tyrant who practically dared her subordinates to tell her something she didn’t want to hear) or without guts or without brains, you’re only going to receive the very thing you’re trying so desperately to avoid. You’ll also create an environment of fear that stunts growth, breeds distrust, and saps creativity and productivity.

One final note

If you’re the unfortunate subordinate of a boss who likes to rule with his (or her) head in the sand, my sympathies. Some of these types have developed a very nasty habit of blaming staff for problems that get out of control because they themselves refuse to listen to reason.

This practice is both cowardly and dastardly, but eventually, said bosses will be exposed — just like that naked Emperor.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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