Neglect…from the Latin neglegere — not to gather.
Benign neglect — a policy or attitude of ignoring a situation instead of assuming responsibility for managing or improving it.

“Neglect in a relationship is perhaps the cruelest punishment because the object of neglect begins to think he or she has no worth, no value, no standing in the world we both inhabit.”




“Well, they never call or come by so I assume that I’m doing OK.”

“I haven’t seen my boss in weeks. I think that means he trusts me.”

In the silence of neglect, there is plenty of room to make up stories, about yourself and/or the other person. We don’t know how our supervisor thinks or feels about us so we create a little story. “He trusts me.” “He thinks I’m doing OK.” Or, “He’s mad and can’t tell me.”

In this “little story” there is a vacuum, the absence of contact and feedback. When we ignore the people that work for us, we deprive them of these two very valuable, human things: meaningful contact with another person and information on how they are performing in their roles. The employee making up the story is taking a leap that says he is not going to get any feedback unless he’s making a mistake. It’s a given, in this scenario, that praise is not forthcoming.

There are plenty of laissez faire managers around (and enough people in the world) who believe that attention is unnecessary and people are best left to their own devices. They tend to be hands off and under-involved. This type of leader usually does not address conflict readily and does not consciously build a supportive environment for others.

Many companies stand primarily on two legs: service to their customer and a belief in their own people. The original founders of these value-driven companies often believe in a culture that trusts people to do their best in an atmosphere of self-accountability and authentic self-expression. There are other core values, but these two are often seen as the pillars of the company culture.

The irony is that these two values can be contradictory. While many leaders go out of their way to engage and meet the needs of their customers, they can often be guilty of letting their employees operate on their own and languish without attention or direction, not giving their own employees one half of the attention they give to customers. This may be especially true in the first phase of employment, but it can equally apply to seasoned employees. Why, when you think about it, would we pay so much attention to a need, a comment, a complaint from someone who has money to spend in the store and leave adrift a person we pay to work for us?

Busy-ness (business) is not an excuse. “Things to do” cannot be a reason. A leader’s responsibility IS people; tending to people and encouraging them in their full potential is THE task of leadership. Ignoring someone who works for you, whatever your rationale, is a failure of your responsibility as a leader.

Leaving people alone can so easily be misinterpreted. We must be careful as leaders, just as we are as parents, to balance control and trust. We must let the leash out gradually but not so far that the employee has the sense of being abandoned. Leaders must be more aware– if we are to be any better than we are — that attention is a valuable thing to give, that person-to-person contact is where leadership, motivation and inspiration happen and that feedback is critical to anyone learning to improve their performance.

Neglect, even when it is well intentioned, may be, as the writer says, the cruelest punishment of all.

John Wood