Leadership and Email . . .

“Diamonds are forever.  E-mail comes close.”  -June Kronholz

Perhaps the busiest individuals in the company are the members of the senior executive team.  They are constantly pulled in multiple directions by a plethora of constituencies – customer meetings, internal staff meetings, trade shows, speeches, analysts briefings, business news interviews, industry meetings.  The list goes on and on.  There is precious little alone time to think about the future of the business and not much time for one-on-one meetings with members of the senior team.  Time seems to be the executive’s worst enemy.

Thankfully, many CEOs and senior executives are at least able to keep in touch and partially manage their business obligations through mobile email.  In the hotel lobby, at the breakfast table, in the elevator, in the taxi, on the plane, even in bed at night, busy executives are replying to emails.

And that’s where the problem starts! Email is no substitution for a face to face meeting and can easily make the situation worse.

Too often I have been copied on a series of back and forth emails from one executive to another about a business issue that slowly grows into an electronic confrontation as electrons loaded with anger or resentment hurl from device to device.  The term “flaming emails” is pretty accurate in some cases.

One of the skills of a mature leader is the ability to discern when an email is appropriate and when the cause is better served by a face to face discussion.  One step along the journey to leadership maturity is to pause before sending any email and ask a few simple questions.

  • Is there any negative emotion or anger embedded in this email?
  • Would I be embarrassed if this email was read by any other person than the recipient?
  • Would my mother approve of the tone of this email?

If the answer is anything but positive to these simple questions, then pick up the phone instead and make a face to face appointment, or at the very least talk it out over the phone or internet video (Skype is useful for this).  

Leadership is as much about behaviour as it is about information and expertise.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E | john@johnrchildress.com      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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