Hierarchy as a leadership cop out

Recently I observed a situation second-hand, of a very senior leader (from a different organisation to mine) not liking the tone of an email from a much less senior person. The senior person chose to moan at the email sender’s line manager, rather than providing direct feedback to the sender. To this day, I’m not sure the sender knows they did (or were perceived to have done something wrong). This use of hierarchy was to me was a massive dereliction of leadership duties, and on that day I lost a little bit of respect for that person.

Surely that is our role as leaders — if the tone of the email (or any other situation for that matter) was less than we expect, then we should be providing direct, constructive feedback. How can we improve if we don’t hear things where we deliver less than expected.

The other thing taking on the feedback task yourself is force you to reflect. I know from experience, that sometimes, starting to pen or think about the structure of the feedback (more often than not using the feedback wrap, it forces me to properly evaluate if the I’d overreacted and then take the appropriate action.

When you’re very senior, you set the tone of an organisation. If you’re prepared to take the time to provide good feedback, that is behaviour others will model. Equally, if you cop out, others will.

Footnote: You may be thinking, if the email was bad, then surely I should have taken the feedback task on. That’s a fair point and one that has stopped me from clicking publish on this for some time. My interpretation was that there was nothing wrong with the email, so there was zero value in telling somebody they’ve given offence. So why didn’t I feedback to the very senior leader? My defence is that they’re not in my organisation, I don’t know them and I found about about this second-hand. I felt that sort of feedback needs to come from someone close enough to bring it into a casual conversation without causing more escalation. Is this another form of cop out? I’d be interested if other people would have dealt with it differently.

Husband. Dad to 3 smashing lads. Cub Leader. MAMIL. Group CDIO for Northampton and Kettering Hospitals. Ex NHS Digital. Views own. Always learning.

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