Guest Column | January 16, 2018

Communication For Leaders: How To Share The Good And The Bad

By Liz Bywater, Ph.D.

Communication For Leaders: How To Share The Good And The Bad

Here’s a leadership challenge recently presented to me.

You are the CEO of a company that’s long been developing a game-changing new product. You’ve spent years and invested millions in development. You’ve got a great staff, an excellent product, and an opening in the marketplace. You’ve filed all the right documents and finally, you’ve gotten a regulatory approval signaling a key step toward commercialization.

What do you do when you get that first green light — and “suddenly” the reality of a commercial launch is within reach? Do you immediately schedule a Town Hall to share the news with your entire organization? Or do you share it only with a select few — maybe your leadership team and most trusted partners?

The fact is, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. But whichever direction you take, it’s important to thoughtfully consider your communication strategy. There are significant implications to saying too much, too quickly, to too many. After all, what if things fall through? Can your organization withstand the disappointment of being so close, yet so far, from bringing the product to market? On the other hand, do you want to deprive your people of the excitement and certain boost to morale? After all, the finish line is finally within reach.

Communication decisions are rarely easy but they’re an essential part of a leader’s job. Whether you are the CEO of a start-up or at the helm of a Fortune 50 company, you’ve got to make daily decisions about what, when, and how to communicate. You’ve got to strike an important balance. Yes, you need to provide direction, encouragement, and context to keep your organization moving in the right direction — yet, at the same time, you don’t want to raise false hope. And you don’t want to inundate your people with undue worry, pressure or stress.

To help with the big communication decisions, I advise my clients to pause, think it through, and consider the potential ramifications of each important communication. Ask yourself:

How can I frame my message to effectively convey optimism, frame challenges, and clearly convey context, strategy, and vision?

Which messages will most benefit the organization and accelerate progress?

Which information can be trickled down more gradually to avoid overwhelming the organization?

If uncertain about what to say (or when, how, and to whom), confide in a trusted advisor or two. Pressure test your approach and enlist others to help with the messaging. Once you get the word out, be available to answer questions, receive feedback, and solicit reactions. Revise and reframe to ensure your message is clearly understood, and don’t worry about overcommunicating. Even good news bears repeating.

Think about it. If you were the CEO above, what would you do?


I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Dr. Liz on Leadership. Each month, I will share new ideas, tools and advice to help you thrive in today’s ever-changing healthcare environment. Let me know what’s top of mind and I’ll answer your most pressing questions in future columns. Contact me at

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