How Great Leaders Break Disappointing News


By Jas Singh

Last year we did a lot of recruiting for an American internet company.

They hired over 20 people through us in three months and this year had scheduled to hire at least 200 more worldwide. In order to maintain the volume and scale of hiring we agreed the best approach was to bring two of our consultants on-board full time. This way, we could also offer them a significant discount.

So in November last year, we spent a lot of time and money to set everything up. Visa’s, accommodation, hiring extra staff to cover the relocation. It was supposed to be the beginning of a long term, beautiful relationship.

However less than three weeks into the project, I got a call from the CEO of the company. He asked if I was free later in the week as he wanted to fly to London personally to discuss an emergency matter with me.

You can guess what happened next. One of the large social media companies had just launched a rival product. Except, they were offering the service for free and also had a few hundred million extra customers head-start on our client. In an emergency meeting the board had decided that the best thing to do was to wind-down the expansion plans immediately and focus purely on existing client retention.

For a small business like ours it was pretty devastating news.

Working in the recruitment industry spanning 2 major recessions/crashes, I’ve had my share of disappointments. It’s part of business. Yet the one thing that I had never experienced until that day was anyone taking so much care and consideration to break the disappointing news. After all, it was a much bigger disappointment for our client’s business than ours.

Leadership is never straight forward and inevitably, there are always times when you have to break bad news. Job cuts. Missing out on the promotion. And worst of all – being unable to deliver on what was promised.

Yet when most people tend to hide, in ten years as a hiring specialist I’ve noticed that great leaders actually take extra responsibility when the pressure is on. To make sure that others are let down in the right and proper way.

Here are some ways how great leaders break disappointing news

They do it themselves

Sounds pretty basic, but you’d be surprised by how many people I speak to every week whose sole reason for job seeking is that their boss wasn’t able to tell them something directly to their face.

Sure, I know all companies have formal procedures and HR departments designed specifically for those jobs.

But the truth is that if someone puts their faith into you, the least you can do is break the bad news one-on-one. Not only does it show care and consideration, but allows others to communicate what they are feeling or would like to say.

Great leaders never let others do their dirty work.

They make sure they speak to their followers directly.

They take responsibility

For most of us, disappointment is never entirely our own fault.

Failure to meet our goals or business disappointments can always attributed to other people, shareholders or the economy.

Yet great leaders are different. Their sole purpose is to ensure that their followers reach the promised goals or visions – and if they are unable to do so, great leaders feel like they have failed personally.

That doesn’t mean that disappointment is necessarily the leaders direct fault. But great leaders treat failure on behalf of their followers as if they have failed themselves.

When followers put their faith in a leader it doesn’t necessarily mean that they want guaranteed success. But what they do want is a leader who is willing to take full responsibility for the journey.

We don’t mind being let down, as long as the other person has tried their very best.

Great leaders never hide behind senior management, lack of funding or increasing competition.

They take full responsibility for the well being of their followers.


They offer alternatives

When things are rock-bottom its easy to keep spiraling.

We’ve all experienced one disappointment in our health, careers or relationships lead to a negative outlook and inevitable further suffering.

One of the best leaders I have ever recruited for works in a highly competitive financial services industry. Even with his great management skills, staff regularly do not make the cut since competition is so fierce. However, despite there always being more candidates desperate to work at his company, he still makes sure that employees are well looked after. He pays us a monthly retainer fee not just to hire for him – but so that we can actively search for suitable jobs for anyone he has to let go.

Great leaders use disappointment as inspiration. They don’t just break bad news and leave – instead they come armed with a plan to start rebuilding.

To start moving again in the right direction.

Great leaders follow negative events with positive actions.


Disappointment is part of life.

Often, we can’t control the circumstances. But we can control the impact.

Hiring managers can gain much from those people who know how to break disappointing news to others.

It can decrease resentment, build respect and createa culture that is unbreakable.

How do you break disappointing news?

Iopa Solutions

Be A Great Leader. Increase Your Hiring Power

If you’re an experienced professional and would like to discuss leadership opportunities please reach out here