Give me some bad news

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A senior GE executive started asking this one question in meetings after realizing an important lesson about leadership

“Tension is a good thing.

That’s according to Beth Comstock, the first chairwoman in GE’s history.

Comstock was just featured in Adam Bryant’s Corner Office column in The New York Times.

She talked a great deal about leadership styles and her influences, and had a great lesson about tension, and why it can be useful.

Here is the relevant passage (emphasis ours):

Comstock: Leadership is about navigating tension. Tension is actually good. If everybody on the team thinks something is good, it’s probably not that good. Leadership is about understanding that things are never going to be perfectly balanced, and understanding how to use that tension to move forward.

I’ve tried lately to try to incorporate more tension. As you get more senior in your career, people often don’t want to tell you the truth because they want to please, and they want to handle things so that they’re not bringing you just the problems.

So a great question I’ve started using is, ‘Tell me one thing I don’t want to hear. It’s O.K. to give me some bad news. In fact, I want it.’


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