The Good Shop Lollipop—Only Good News!

In early 2018 as Facebook struggled with privacy issues, I was shocked to hear on NPR that COO Sheryl Sandberg has a sign on her private conference room saying “Only Good News.” (Perhaps there’ll be a follow-up story about her having a corresponding conference room with an “Only Bad News” sign.)

As someone who was brought into Facebook as adult supervision and apparently has had success in driving profitability, I’d expect her to see the danger in this.

If a senior executive asks that she hear only good news, why would someone tell her about Russian interference on her platform of U.S. elections? Why would anyone inform her about millions of records being used for nefarious purposes?

Forget Facebook momentarily and imagine yourself as a senior executive of a company — perhaps one that brings real value to society rather than kitty videos. If you ask that your people only bring you good news, do you think it might cause them to fudge the revenue numbers to make the quarterly budget?

If you just want to hear positive news, is it possible you might not hear that morale sucks and turnover is increasing?

If you only want to hear the good stuff, will the marketing department tell you about a competitor that’s poised to eat your lunch?

What if the entire company loathes your internal speeches? Do you think someone will tell you?

When product development is behind schedule, do you think they’ll make the right call or push out a crappy product to meet the deadline?

Cynicism is dangerous in business. People who usually see the glass as half empty rarely make effective leaders, because they’re no fun to be around.

However, a leader who doesn’t balance risk with upside and ignores the tough messages isn’t managing; she’s just presiding. Optimism shouldn’t eliminate realism. The Good Ship Lollypop doesn’t always find Candyland.

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  • Don Myers

    6:28 am April 9, 2018

    It would be interesting to hear her version of what she means by “good news“. I could speculate that it was her way of incentivizing for people to bring truly newsworthy stories to the conversation given how precious the broadcast time is.


    • Todd Ordal

      6:36 am April 9, 2018

      I would like to hear what she meant, Don, but regardless of what she might say now, I suspect many would interpret it exactly as stated. More often that message is implied by messengers getting shot for bringing bad news even though the stated policy is open minds.

  • Paul

    8:41 am April 9, 2018

    Todd, I agree with your premise here. I actually believe that a strong leader needs to develop the skills to “pull” forward the challenging news. It is human nature for team members to want to limit sharing to the best of news. But for an organization to thrive it needs to nearly “celebrate” dealing with the bad stuff.

    • Todd Ordal

      8:50 am April 9, 2018

      Thanks, Paul. I like the concept of “pulling forward the challenging news.” Leadership always requires a balancing act and perfection is elusive! While I used Ms. Sandberg as an example, I am often struck by how even very talented leaders can appear to have moments of incompetence. We’ll see how Zuckerberg fairs on capital hill with the stuffed shirts! Should he adopt the “only good news” mantra, he’ll get crucified.