Killing the messenger is an ancient tradition: you take out your frustration on the people bringing you bad news, rather than on those who have created it. This is a game of kings, and it is also a game for leaders who lack a tolerance for negative information. Being able to absorb and learn from negative events is a critical skill for leaders today, yet rather than develop this skill, they play Kill the Messenger. The end result of this game is that people fi lter their reports to the boss, taking out any reportage that might engender an outburst. These leaders then operate from an unrealistically optimistic perspective; they think things are going great and are unable to plan for downturns or competitors’ moves.
Example: Forbasaw, a senior vice president with a marketing services agency, played Kill the Messenger whenever one of her people would tell her something about the fi rm’s clients that she didn’t want to hear. Instead of listening quietly and analyzing objectively, she would always respond with an accusation along the lines of “The bad news you’re telling me is a result of your not staying on top of the account.” In other words, Forbasaw couldn’t accept that clients would be unhappy for any reason except that their representative was doing a bad job. Of course, her people learned not to communicate clients’ unhappiness, so Forbasaw operated in a blissful bubble, thinking that everything was going fine when in fact there were serious problems with a number of clients but her team was now playing No Bad News.