Find Ways to Make Good News (HBR)

Stephen Tyrone Johns died as he lived, helping other people. Johns opened the door for the man who shot him, a white supremacist who opened fire at the Holocaust Museum where Johns worked as a security guard. Friends and co-workers remember Johns, an imposing man who stood six-and-a-half feet tall, as a “gentle giant” who enjoyed his work and was well liked by others.

To its credit, played the Johns story on its home page on and off for a day or so. Typically the victims don’t get much coverage; only the killers. In the coming days and weeks we will still get our fill of information about the man who shot Mr. Johns, but it was heartening to see CNN go counter to this trend.

CNN’s coverage also shows those of us who write and teach about leadership that while we cannot change the world overnight, we certainly can seek to change things within our own control. And so here’s a suggestion for any leader who is wrestling with tough issues in these tough times: You should continue to address the impact of the financial crisis on your business, but you owe yourself and your people a break from the relentless progress of bad news.

Challenge yourself to find one good piece of good news every day, or every other day, and share it with your people. You will find these stories in the news at large but also in your company specifically. Share these stories with your colleagues. Going a step further, you might even consider making some good news, too. Here are some suggestions to spread some good cheer.

  • Recognize a colleague for a contribution she has made and publicly thank her for it.
  • Spring for lunch for the team; nothing fancy — pizza and sandwiches will do.
  • Hand out coupons for free movie tickets or DVD rentals.
  • Sponsor a community volunteer day, e.g. give people a day off to work in their communities.
  • Create opportunities to share positive work experiences and lessons learned in your team meetings.

Spreading good cheer will not save your department from further cutbacks; it will not help your company be a more formidable competitor. It may not even save your job. But what it will do is get you in the habit of thinking more positively. That has its virtues. Not only will you brighten the lives of those with whom you work. You will also train yourself to approach your own job with a more optimistic attitude.

First posted on 6.18.2009