How to Deliver Bad News to Your Boss

4 Items That Will Make a Tough Conversation Easier

Have you ever agonized over having to deliver bad news to your boss?  The sinking feeling of having a pit in your stomach doesn’t help you want to pick up the phone to make that call. I know I’ve personally had some angst when faced with this situation.

Delivering Bad News


As a young company commander in charge of over 180 soldiers, I had a soldier get a DUI a week after another one of my soldiers tested positive for drug use.  I knew I had to call my boss, but was concerned about the phone call, as this was the second incident in a week.  My gut told me that these incidents would reflect poorly on my leadership abilities. I privately wondered if this would start me down the road of being replaced prematurely or even fired. Having the worst case scenario in my head, I sat at my desk staring at my phone.


Bad Thing Will Likely Happen Under Your Watch

It’s inevitable.  Bad things will happen while you are in charge. It doesn’t matter how good you are. Unfortunate events occur on nearly everyone’s watch.  It took me years to realize this. Once I did, I also realized that it’s not the event itself that matters as much as how you respond to the event. When bad things happen, you will need to deliver bad news.


Report Bad News ASAP

Unlike wine, bad news does not get better with time.  The opposite is true. Bad news actually gets worse with time, which means you need to deliver bad news in a timely manner.  Here are four items to keep in mind and help guide you through that dreaded conversation. Prepare for the conversation with these four items to have a better experience.


4 Items That Will Make a Tough Conversation Easier

  1. Report What You Know. This can easily be done with a 5 Ws format (Who, What, Where, When, and Why).
  2. Report What You Don’t Know. Inevitably, there will be information gaps that will require time to develop the situation. Figure out the pieces of information that you don’t know. This requires you to step back from the situation to gain perspective on the information you need, but don’t yet have.
  3. Report What You Are Doing About the Situation. Identify how you are trying to fill the information gaps and your plan of action is to work towards resolving the situation.
  4. Inform your Boss what resources or assistance you need. You may not be able to handle everything yourself. Be sure to handle items that are appropriate at your level, but also don’t be afraid to tell the boss what you need or how he or she can help you.  This requires maturity in determining what you can’t or shouldn’t do for yourself.


At the end of the day, you can’t control bad luck or nor can you always prevent unfortunate incidents.  You can, however, choose how you respond to bad news. Done correctly, you will set the example for your team on how to handle the situation. Done incorrectly and you will show your team how NOT to handle stressful situations.


Question: What tips do you have for delivering bad news?


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Photo Credit: An airman calls in a medical report while airmen prepare to evacuate a simulated patient during a tactical combat casualty care class at the New Jersey National Guard’s Joint Training and Training Development Center at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Sept. 27, 2017. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht

One Phrase that Gives You Freedom of Action

Have you ever find yourself waiting for your boss’ approval before you can move forward with a project?  If you’ve been in this boat, there’s one phrase that you can start using to gain some freedom of action at work.


I’ve had a boss that was extremely deliberate in his decision making.  He was so deliberate that it felt like he was slowing me down.  The problem was that I was constantly waiting for him to get the OK to continue to do my job. Many interpreted his deliberate style as just plain slow. The real issue was that my boss felt he needed to make every decision in order to add value to the organization, which was not necessarily true. He was overwhelmed with the number of decisions he felt he had to make.

I felt I knew in which direction we needed to go and what we needed to do to get there.  My boss, on the other hand, constantly hesitated in making decisions, which frustrated me. I felt like a saddled horse, being slowed down and just wanted to break loose and sprint.


Command By Negation

After months of frustration, I realized that there was a way I could help my boss out while gaining greater latitude in my job. This idea came from a concept borrowed from the U.S. Navy known as “command by negation.”  The practice is outlined in the U.S. Naval Officer’s Guide, which states, “commanders report their intention to their superior officer, noting that the action will be taken UNless Otherwise DIRected (UNODIR) and provide a continual stream of information to the superior officer, who is not required to sign off on the plan or execute it, but only gets involved if the superior objects.”

There is one simple phrase that you can start using today to break free of any constraint while, giving your boss a vote at the same time.

UNODIR:  Unless Otherwise Directed…

The phrase “Unless otherwise directed” provides you with a way forward without the wait. An example of using UNODIR is “Unless otherwise directed, I intend to implement the training program we discussed last week.”  This statement demonstrates the intent of the subordinate to take initiative using a training plan that was recently discussed with the boss.  The boss has a chance to change the direction of the team if he disagrees.


Why It Works

There are several reasons this one phrase enables you with freedom of movement to get your job done in a timely manner.

  1. Initiative. First of all, it allows you to take initiative. You are not waiting to be told what to do, but instead, you are outlining how you intend to generate action from the bottom up.
  2. Intention instead of Permission. It practices the principle of “Intent Based Leadership” made popular by David Marquet. You are explaining what you intend to do, instead of asking permission. Asking permission will generally slow down the decision cycle.
  3. Gives Your Boss the Option to Say “No.” Your boss is still in control as she has the opportunity to stop you or say no. Taking initiative and providing your boss with intent does not mean that you are rogue and running wild. You are still giving your boss a vote.
  4. Faster decision making. Decisions will naturally be faster as your boss’ option to say no or adjust your plan has an expiration date. The phrase is not an ultimatum but merely explains that if your boss objects they have a limited window to make that correction or objection.

Results = Freedom of Action

When I started using this phrase, I was surprised at the results.  I had a greater level of autonomy to go in the direction I thought we needed to go, while my boss still had a voice in the matter.  My boss felt as though he had fewer decisions to make and rarely ever provided direction that varied my plan.

In order to use this phrase and technique effectively, you should have some street cred built with your boss first. If you are not a known quantity, it will be tougher to implement the idea.  Try using “Unless Otherwise Directed” today and see if you can gain more latitude while working within your boss’ intent. It may make your collective organization faster as you work together with fewer decision chokepoints.


Question: What steps have you taken to get more latitude in your job?


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Photo Credit: Sailors aboard the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem man the rails as the ship enters port in Busan, South Korea, Oct. 21, 2017. Stethem is operating as part of the Ronald Reagan Strike Group in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations, a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeremy Graham

4 Steps to Conquer the Impossible

Have you ever taken on a project that seemed overwhelmingly complex or even impossible?  Or wanted to accomplish an audacious goal, but procrastinated due to the feeling you were in over your head and had no idea where to start?


“Impossible” Request

When my kids were younger, they asked me if I could build them a treehouse.  The question seemed ludicrous to me as I barely owned any tools.  The fact that I never had a father, meant that I didn’t have any experience in carpentry or woodworking. I had no skill in fixing things let alone building them from scratch.  The project seemed impossible as I didn’t think I could do it.  Someone else might be able to tackle this, not me.

I also didn’t want to let my kids down, so I said I would give it a shot.  When I asked the kids what they wanted the treehouse to look like, they asked for the world.  They wanted a treehouse with:

  • a ladder
  • a slide
  • a trap door
  • a bucket pulley system
  • a fireman pole
  • a zip line
  • and a bridge (which likely meant adding a second treehouse)

Before I could get the kids to tell me what the bridge would connect to, my son said he even wanted a zip line that would take him from his second-floor bedroom window to the bridge on the treehouse. I knew I was in over my head, even before zip line idea.

4 Simple Steps

We built the treehouse within a couple of months, despite having no clue where to start, nor any confidence in my ability to use power tools.  I took the following steps to get to go from crazy idea to reality.

  1. Visualize success.  Picture the goal and what it would look like. Don’t be afraid to make this a big goal that makes you feel uncomfortable. Michael Hyatt calls this “imagining the possibilities.”  I imagined the joy in my kids’ faces while playing on the treehouse. After consulting with the kids, I drew a concept sketch. We went big. The sketch included two tree houses with crisscrossing slides.
  2. Make a plan. A plan is crucial to outlining the steps to be taken.  You don’t need to figure out the entire plan right away.  Identifying the next couple of actions can help you get started, which will eventually provide insight to the rest of the path.
    • It’s ok to get help. I got some outside help in the form of a couple different treehouse design books and took notes at park and school playgrounds. I also had help from my neighbors and some of their tools when it came time to start building.
  3. Make it manageable.  Instead of trying to tackle everything at once, I broke the project down into phases. I decided that I would just build a single treehouse with a balcony, ladder, and bucket the first year. The rest would wait until the next year.   I wanted to start small and gain momentum to avoid getting overwhelmed and stuck with an unfinished project.  The books also gave me some practical step-by-step instructions along with a starting point for the wood and hardware required.
  4. Take action. With a plan and list of materials needed in hand, we just had to go to the home improvement store and get to work. There’s an old Chinese proverb that says “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The next best time is today.”


We built the first treehouse in less than 2 months. The following year I built the second treehouse and the bridge after seeing that building a treehouse wasn’t impossible. Each subsequent year, we added the slides, a fireman pole, zip line etc. to keep things interesting. You won’t find out treehouse on the show Treehouse Masters, but that doesn’t matter as our family built it together.

In case you were wondering, the zip line did not run from my son’s bedroom window. It went from the treehouse to our neighbor’s tree instead.  Apparently, my wife (who has better judgment) and our insurance company found that idea problematic.

We made mistakes, which required multiple trips to the store, but we learned lessons along the way.  My kids also enjoyed helping their old man in the building phases.


While the treehouse project seemed impossible at first, it proved to be achievable, even for a person with no experience.  All it took was visualizing success, making a plan, tackling the project in manageable parts, and taking action.

What seemingly impossible goals have you tackled in your life?


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Learn to Be Brief

Get Your Message Across By Saying Less

Have you ever suffered through a long-winded and confusing presentation or sales pitch? While the speaker is rambling on, you find yourself wondering what point the speaker is trying to make or lost in other thoughts.

brief communication

Nearly all of us have found ourselves in this situation before. Have you ever wondered if your audience feels the same way when you are presenting an idea? Why do we find ourselves in this situation more often?

While email and the Internet have given us the ability to find information and make purchases much faster, the downside to these tools is information overload. The average office employee in 2015 received over 100 emails each day. This number is expected to increase by 5% every year for the foreseeable future.

So how do we avoid being “that speaker” that meanders through a discussion with no identifiable purpose?

Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less

Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less is a book, written by Joe McCormack, that can make you an effective and “lean communicator” in very little time.

The book explains not only why it’s important to be Brief, but also gives you the tools to communicate clearly and concisely. Joe even helps you determine when and where to be Brief. The book is easy to read and provides readers with an action plan to put the principles into practice.

How to Become Brief

You can get your own copy of Brief from Amazon, which can also be found on our resources page. I have also attended the Brief course and workshops and highly recommend them to those in the military and executives alike. Check out Joe’s website at or follow The Brief Lab on LinkedIn.


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Improve Your 2017 Without Making Resolutions

How many times have you made resolutions in the past that didn’t stick? Studies show that most people give up on their resolutions within a few weeks.


Best Year Ever

Two years ago I wanted to make a change in my life but had failed at resolutions in the past. That’s when I came across Michal Hyatt’s Best Year Ever. Best Year Ever is a five-day course that provides you with an alternative to resolutions.

I tried it out and accomplished goals over the year that, in hindsight, improved my relationship with my family and church.

  • Marital Goals: These goals included going on regular dates and taking four-weekend getaways with my wife.
  • Parental Goals: I also wanted to spend intentional one-on-one time with each of my children. That year I took each kid on a father-son/father-daughter weekend.
  • Spiritual Goals: I joined a couple of small groups at my church and conducted two ministries that year.

The methodology behind Best Year Ever can also work for you. Registration for Best Year Ever is closed right now, but I’ll provide you with a quick summary below.

Goals Not Resolutions

The difference maker with Best Year Ever is that you create goals and make a plan with a deadline. Resolutions made without a plan or a deadline are merely aspirations. Michael walks you through determining the Next Actions required to get started and gain momentum.


Many of you have heard of making SMART goals. Best Year Ever takes it one step further and has you make SMARTER goals. SMARTER goals are spelled out below.

  • Specific. Losing weight is not a specific goal. Losing 3% body fat by June 1st is specific.
  • Measurable. There should be a metric to identify when the goal is attained.
  • Actionable. The goal should start with an action verb.
  • Realistic. Attaining a personal record on a triathlon is realistic for all. Winning a gold medal in the Olympics will be realistic for a select group.
  • Time-bound.  Assign a deadline to your goal.
  • Exciting. The goal should be compelling and stretch you outside your comfort zone.
  • Relevant. As Michael says, we are all in different seasons in our lives. Some goals will be relevant at only certain points of our lives.

Additional Considerations

In addition to making your goals SMARTER, there are a few other steps to ensuring you achieve your goals.

  • Identify your Why. Identifying your motivations or reasons behind making your goals will help you when the going gets tough.
  • Limit yourself to 7-10 goals maximum for the year.
  • Share goals with a select group to help you with accountability.
  • Not having everything planned out is OK. Identifying a couple Next Actions required is good enough to get started. The path will become clear as you gain momentum.
  • Schedule time for your goals and put them on your calendar.
  • Regularly review your goals. Weekly is recommended.
  • Keep your goals visible to avoid the old adage “out of sight is out of mind.” Your computer, fridge, or bathroom mirror are good spots to keep your goals visible.
  • Getting help is completely OK.

Some of My 2017 Goals

Despite going through the course a couple years ago, I use 5 days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve to go through the Best Year Ever process. My goals this year include starting a Venture Crew (co-ed Boy Scout organization focused on high adventure activities), taking my family on a European vacation to visit our extended family, and increasing subscribers and reach for this website.


Make 2017 a productive year by setting goals instead of resolutions. Make your goals SMART or SMARTER and start with the next actions required in order to gain momentum. Maintain momentum in achieving your goals by staying connected with your key motivations. I encourage you to give this process a shot as it can improve your year. It definitely improved mine.


Question: What goals will you set for yourself in 2017?


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