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Gormley Human

The failure to provide timely feedback can be costly.

We’re at session four in a coaching relationship. A knotty but familiar issue comes up – something is happening in the business unit that the coachee leads although they are not yet directly involved.

My thought: “this is a textbook example of failure to act.”

Many experienced managers, HR professionals and coaches will have come across this situation – and many would have come to the same conclusion I think.

The background was a new leader being accused of aggression by a long-standing member of staff. So, leaving aside the psychological projection that could well be a factor, it was important for everyone concerned to be emotionally intelligent and wise in how the situation was handled.


The person concerned (let’s call him Tom) was bright, with very useful experience and, according to some, of fairly high potential. He had a range of technical skills that were relevant for the business – more relevant than many during a period of significant change. He had navigated one restructuring but not with good grace.

A number of previous colleagues and managers had commented on Tom’s behaviour. Some feedback in the form of hints had been offered but there had, objectively, been an absence of adept management. One previous manager had chosen to tolerate negative behaviours as a ‘price worth paying’ and another effectively abdicated as his manager. She simply decided not to manage and left Tom to his own devices – no management; no feedback; nothing.

The punch line to this was, I’m afraid, entirely avoidable. Along came the aforementioned new leader who decided to act. In the context of high support, which included recognising & rewarding Tom’s contribution, there was now also some challenge. The behaviours, including a lack of collegiality, disruption in meetings and sometimes full-on aggression, needed to change. And one or two areas of under-performance required attention – particularly when they arose from an unwillingness to accept managerial decisions. Putting it mildly…..this was not well-received.

Gormley Florence Human Critical Mass

And, lo & behold, as a result of the prior failure to act the new leader was accused of aggression himself with all manner of resulting complexity and angst for all concerned – not least Tom himself.

So I ask you – when this next happens, for happen it will, is it easier to deal with a behavioural problem there and then, to offer well-intended feedback and to request change – or is it easier to do nothing in the interests of a short-term easier life?

My view: it never pays to pass a problem around. You are well-advised always to address performance issues with timely, well-intended feedback.

It is invariably a mistake to leave behavioural or performance issues unaddressed. It nearly always leads to an inflated issue – possibly for someone else – in the longer term.