Leadership by Email

email iconHow many messages are in your inbox? Do you sort, file, delete and respond daily? Many aspects of life and work are dealt with via email; what about leadership? When leaders need to communicate to give direction, make decisions, or in other ways to relate to colleagues, is email appropriate? Maybe you have received email from a supervisor or colleague that made your day—or, just the opposite, crushed you. Conversely, you may have sent the same. Leadership by email? Yes, it can work!

Leadership by Email: When and How

Email in the context of leadership is useful when it’s carefully crafted in style, vocabulary, length, and purpose. Create a direct subject line, greet the recipient by name; take time to choose accurate and respectful words, keep it under 200 words, and make sure the purpose is clear. Check out a basic email etiquette resource, such as businessinsider.com.

Email is fine for distributing information to a large number of people quickly, for delivering electronic documents, for establishing a “paper trail” of communication when required, for getting in touch with someone who is not readily available by phone or in person, and for brief one on one exchanges. However, leadership by email is not appropriate for long, complicated issues that require extended discussion. Do not handle confidential matters via email because email is never private. One does not control where and when the email message goes after clicking the “send” button. Also, if you wouldn’t say it to a person face to face, don’t say it in an email message. Emotionally charged messages are often misconstrued and can lead to serious consequences. Email is admissible evidence in a court of law.

Leadership by Email: Be Strategic

It’s easy to see how email can “backfire” on a leader—after all, there’s so much that can be misunderstood or inadvertently left out! That’s why it’s important to be intentional about writing email. Beware of messages received late in the day marked “urgent”—you don’t need to respond by 5 p.m.! Schedule a time early in the day to write or respond to messages that require your opinion, decision or authorization. Save them for a time. Re-read and revise. Save again if needed. Are you 100% comfortable with what you are saying? Only then should you click “send”.

About the Author

ReneeDr. Renée N. Hale is Lead Consultant at WellSpirit Consulting Group, Inc. WellSpirit Management Consulting provides custom company/organizational management solutions, individual leadership coaching and stand alone workshops.  Located on the 84th floor of the Willis Tower, Chicago. Call (312) 283-8020 to schedule an appointment today. To join the Business Worth Living  community, use the sign-up form on this page to receive our weekly Business Worth Living newsletter.