In a New York Times Magazine article published this week, Jurgen Klinsmann, Head Coach of the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team, told reporter Sam Borden “We cannot win this World Cup, because we are not at that level yet.”

The comments, made during an interview held in December, are no doubt troubling for some in the soccer world. The World Cup, the holy grail of sports tournaments, starts next week. It’s the one month every four years in the U.S. that soccer sees coverage and interest comparable to other sports in America.

With America’s own domestic league, Major League Soccer (MLS), gradually gaining ground, World Cup hype could only boost growth. Why would Klinsmann jeopardize interest with such a condemnation of the team’s chances?

Klinsmann, a native of Germany, comes from a culture where it’s okay to express one’s self honestly in sports. We would be shocked to hear an American athlete or coach give anything beyond a response of “our goal is to win.”

As an advocate for open expression in sports, I’m fine with what Klinsmann said – it’s refreshing. Could this fly, though, if Klinsmann was in charge of a company presented with a difficult situation?

Negativity is never something you want hanging around your organization, but surely there’s something to be said for having the courage to be frank with others, particularly in hard times. We’ve seen countless instances where leaders are judged by their responses to crises.

In facing an uphill struggle à la Klinsmann, it’s important to make everyone aware of realistic expectations. It’s not the time for vague rhetoric or sugar-coating. Questions and criticism may arise, but it’s a tradeoff for the respect you gain for humility and trustworthiness.

There’s certainly more involved than an admission of shortcomings. Once you’ve established why performance is or will be less than ideal, you need to develop a strategy outlining how to fix this. Again, responsibility and intelligence can help to dull the sting of the contemporary issues.    

Ultimately, the implementation and success of that reactionary plan will decide the final assessment; without it, it’s all for naught. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a good first impression.