[January 3, 2018] Advising leaders the best way to untangle problems is one of my goals as a retired senior leader. Yet I remain amazed at how senior leaders fail to use tools at their disposal to assist their need to resolve issues. Email is one of the most valuable and most risky tools in the leadership toolbox.
In the past, I warned about the misuse of email and how easy it was to get into trouble with it. For example, transmitting classified documents on an unclassified system is a serious offense in the U.S. Government. This is what presidential candidate Hillary Clinton did that got her investigated by the FBI (although she consistently denies it). There are lessons to be learned here but not from her methods.
Listed below is how to use email as a positive tool that benefits conflict resolution and a smooth-running operation. If there is a problem in the workplace, many leaders are predisposed to quickly send out an email addressing the issue. This is a poor leadership move.
It is a better technique to use email for its intended purpose. First, any problem must be dealt with face-to-face if at all possible or by video/audio if that cannot happen. Some significant effort should be made to clarify to all stakeholders that they understand the overriding issue and what has been discussed. Clarity is the key word.
Second, once concerns and solutions are discussed then those should be detailed in an email; thanking those involved and listing what has been discussed and any post-meeting analysis that the leader has chosen to highlight. This is where leaders often fail. They sure everyone “got the message” and that there is no room for misinterpretation. That is, of course, not the case and all the reason to give detail in an email.
Third, email is used for a follow-up to address any special events or changes in the issue. As noted before, a face-to-face is the precursor to any email. This advice applies to other social media like texting, Facebook, Twitting, etc. Email is an older system that is easy to use and therefore easy to get into trouble by using it indiscriminately.
Leaders should be aware that anyone who sends an email does so with some risk. Risk is a part of what leaders do but to put themselves in unwarranted situations. Sending a memo via email is unprofessional and not easy to undo once sent. It’s also a good idea to print out any important email and keep it in a hardcopy file or on the computer separate from the email application.
With the new year already here, it is time to remind others that taking risks when an analysis has not been done, is poor leadership. Email, texting, Twitting, and other social media methods of communication are often misinterpreted and misunderstood. That is why the face-to-face is so crucial to insuring this does not happen.
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