Tag Archives | leadership communication

The Perils and Pitfalls of Leadership Emails–and 6 Tips to Avoid Them

When Rick forwarded the email of his new job description to all of his colleagues, he forgot the notes he’d appended to himself below, which highlighted sensitive information, including the salary range of his boss.

Have you ever hit send and then wished you could hit undo? Although sometimes you can recall an email, many times it’s too late. Whatever you’ve written and how you felt when you wrote it is out there for the world to see.Tips to avoid leadership email problems Here are 6 tips to help you stay out of trouble and get the results you want.

1. If you are angry or upset write a draft. Do NOT hit send. I know of one leader who was so frustrated that she wrote in response to a report she’d just received, “Bill, this is garbage. Can’t you get your team under control? I want this redone immediately.”

Now, I have to tell you, I saw that report. It wasn’t garbage. One of the most cathartic feelings in the world can be to write out our frustrations. That said, nine times out of ten–no, let’s make that 9.9 times out of ten–if we are really upset, what we write may be our own truth of the moment or just a venting of our frustration. It will not be a productive way to communicate. So, when you are really frustrated, write a draft. The safest way is to write it in a Word document. Put your draft away, overnight if possible, but at least for an hour. Then, reread it, copy and paste–and only then hit send.

2. Remember, whatever you send in an email can be forwarded. Be very careful. In the example above, that particular leader was having a bad day. Unfortunately, the direct report she sent it to forwarded her email to his team, and yes, well, you know the story. It ended up being an incredible demotivator for a group of employees who were working hard to put out some excellent work under extremely difficult circumstances.

3. Refuse to forward punishing or defamatory information. Nobody wins by receiving an email with nasty or pejorative comments. When leaders must provide critical feedback, one-way communication such as an email is never acceptable. Sensitive topics and communication must happen face-to-face. Or, if that isn’t possible, voice-to-voice, so that the recipient can ask questions and together you can resolve the issues.

4. Write a compelling subject line. The most important element in any email is the subject line. Your direct reports and colleagues are as busy as you are. If you don’t give them a reason to focus on your message, they may not open it in time to take the actions you want them to take.

I once worked with an executive who was desperately trying to introduce and manage change in his department. Three out of four times, his subject line would read “Important Information.” The problem was that after a while it was like the boy who cried wolf, and people didn’t respond as quickly as he wished. Finally, after one brave colleague suggested he summarize his critical information in the subject line, he began to get the attention he wanted. Instead of “important information,” he wrote subject lines such as: “Reports due by Friday at 10:00.” “Customer Feedback Report–Your Input Required by 5/15.” And, so on. Think about your subject line like this. If that was all they read, would your readers have an idea about the contents of your email?

5. Never forward an email from someone else without rewriting a pertinent subject line. Emily reported to a Marketing executive in a company that was undergoing a company-wide transformation. People worked around the clock to analyze customer needs, redo their digital marketing strategy, and transform their websites, trade show tactics, and overall approach to the marketplace. On average, team members received about 100 emails a day–many from their leader.

Unfortunately, this leader forwarded dozens of emails with processes, examples, and reports from current and former colleagues. He believed that the information they contained would accelerate the organizational change he wanted. What he neglected to do was change the original sender’s subject line to one that was meaningful and related to what he wanted his team to do with the information. An email with a subject line that read, “Company XYZ’s Customer Metrics for July,” didn’t seem critical when people received it. But when they finally opened the email and read his instructions, they learned their boss wanted to adopt a similar process, and he was frustrated that several days had gone by. Yeah, yeah, I know if something is from your boss, it’s a good idea to read it, but the fact is if anyone receives 100 emails in a day, one that does not seem hot may go unnoticed. He did this a lot.

6. Include just one main topic or action per email. A friend of mine once received an email that listed several job descriptions and examples of how to write a compelling resume to get an interview in a field she was extremely interested in joining. At the bottom of the email, her colleague had included a job opportunity. Unfortunately, my friend was going out of town, and didn’t see the most important part of the email until she returned.

By that time, the job was closed. The sender could have avoided this issues by sending two emails with separate headings:  1) Job Opportunity–Check it Out! and 2) Resume Examples for Project Manager Jobs in Information Technology. The first is clearly time critical. The second just as clearly not.

Email is an important communication tool in our crazy, busy worlds if we are to stay in touch. As leaders we just have to remember that once something is written and sent, it’s out there for all the world to see. Our goal is to get the results we really want. So, on those tricky, difficult days when you don’t have two seconds to rub together, take a breath and read what you’ve written before you hit send.


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Creative Communication: Every Leader Needs a TYSK

A TYSK is a short, easy-to-produce communication that’s fun, reinforces strategy, and motivates employees to respond.

When I worked at GE, every one of us knew that if Jack Welch came to visit and happened to stop one of us in the hallway and ask, “What’s your bottom line,” we’d better know the answer. As leaders, we knew that it was our job to be sure that Leadership Communication Toolsevery employee knew the facts about our competition, our strategy and goals, and our progress against those strategies and goals. We communicated these things in a number of ways, but employees told us that one of the most effective, simplest, and engaging communications was our TYSK. Now you might wonder, TYSK, what’s a TYSK? The acronym stands for Things You Should Know. We produced this brief eNewsletter once a week. The writing was concise and fun, and our TYSK consisted of just three parts:

  • 3-5 updates about our progress against key goals, always highlighting and giving credit to the people who were responsible.
  • A contest consisting of one question related to our strategy, a goal, or the competition. The first person who responded with the right answer was the winner. And yes, as corny as it may seem, there was a prize. A small prize, but people loved to go for it. Prizes ranged from a set of golf balls to a shirt or a coffee mug with our logo. The prize wasn’t the issue–competing to get the right answer in first was the point. By asking these questions, we reinforced key strategic messages every week.
  • The answer to the previous week’s question with the name of the winner, which also reinforced key messages about an element of our strategy, a goal, or the competition.

The reason our TYSK was successful in keeping everyone up to date was because it was short, it was fun, it involved people, and it reinforced important elements relating to our success. One of the biggest challenges leaders face these days is gaining employee mind share. In this digital world, people are deluged with thousands of messages every day. In order to gain some of that mindshare, leaders have to be creative. It has nothing to do with how smart people are or how committed they are. Gaining mindshare has to do with our ability as leaders to create compelling, memorable, and easy to digest communications. What creative communications have worked in your organization?

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Leadership Resilience: On Starting Over

Remember, you don’t have to be perfect. It’s never too late to start over with your team if you remember these Starting over with your teamfour things:

  • It’s more important to listen first and speak second.
  • Use everyone’s expertise to plan and get results.
  • When you are wrong, apologize.
  • Honor your team. and they will honor you.

When I was promoted to my first leadership job at Honeywell’s Systems and Research Center, I was committed to being the best leader I could be. One of the first things I learned from my team was that they felt like second-class citizens. I had lots of ideas about how we could become strategic partners to support our business, and I shared them all. I was passionate. I was animated. I talked a lot. I listened a little.

Then, shortly after I started, my mother died, my father-in-law died, my own father had a stroke, and my grandmother died—all within a sixteen-week period. The pain was devastating, but I ignored it, and charged on. I was the leader after all, right?  My job was to set an example, not be an example.

I was exhausted, not particularly coherent, and I was abrupt as I tried to hide my feelings. Finally, Mike, the senior member of our team asked if I would meet with everyone the next morning. When I walked into the conference room, all ten of my direct reports sat waiting for me around a long table. Mike sat at the foot, and the chair at the head of the table was empty, waiting for me.

Before I could say a word, Mike broke in. “First of all, we want you to know that we really care about you. But lately, Sher, you seem really curt, and we feel that you don’t have any faith in us.”

“Are you speaking for everyone when you say “we feel”?  My voice was clipped and short, and then my face started to burn. I’d just proven his point.

Rita spoke up. “You seem to want to know every detail about all of our projects. It feels like you don’t trust us. And, you have all these ideas about how to change things.”

Linda added in her soft voice, “You just seem so defensive, lately. What’s wrong?” Linda was one of the kindest, most honest women, I’d ever met, and if she said I was being defensive, then I had to believe her.

Something shifted inside of me. I could feel it as I slumped in my chair and forgot about being the perfect leader for the first time since I’d joined the team.

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I’d like to listen, really. I do want to understand what you’re thinking and feeling.”

Around the table, people visibly relaxed, and I realized for the first time they’d been as nervous as I was. For the next hour, I listened for a change, and they spoke. Looking back, I realize that they had no big complaints. They were sincere when they said they wanted to work with me. They just needed me to listen.

“Thank you for having the guts to speak up,” I said after everyone had gone around the table. “I have been curt and preoccupied, but it had nothing to do with you.” And, I finally shared why I’d been out of the office. They’d had no idea about all the deaths in my family. “I’m really sorry it seemed as though I was finding fault. I didn’t mean to come off that way. I’ve been talking a lot about my vision. Can we start over and instead talk about our vision?”

I got an enthusiastic “yes” from everyone around that table.

Over a three-year period, we worked hard, becoming serious business partners with all the science areas at the Systems and Research Center, and we moved well beyond our previous role of support staff. We doubled our productivity, we maintained a flat-line budget, and we had fun.

It’s been more than 20 years, and I still remember that team with love and honor them for the lessons they were so willing to help me learn. I went on and studied everything I could learn about leadership communication. Since then, I’ve led global and strategic change management communication teams at GE, American Express, Honeywell, and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. I’ve worked with hundreds of leaders all over the world from the front line to the C-Suite, from high tech to financial services to manufacturing. And to this day, the four most important leadership lessons I’ve learned are:

  • It’s more important to listen first, speak second.
  • Use everyone’s expertise to plan and get results.
  • When you’re wrong, apologize.
  • Honor your team. and they will honor you.

It’s never too late to start over as a leader when things go awry. Have you ever started over? How did it go?

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When You Speak, Do Employees Listen and Take Action?

Employees who don't listen

Part 1:  Take 3 steps to gain employee buy-in, engagement, and action

The company was bleeding out of every orifice. If they were to survive, it was imperative that every employee understood they could no longer do business as they’d been doing it for so many years. Customers were not happy with the products they manufactured or the services they provided.

Things had to change. Fast.

This is the story of Sarah, Joe, Greg, and Elizabeth. Only one of these department leaders captured attention, gained buy-in, and motivated employees to listen and take action. Only one leader got results.

Too many facts and figures. Sara met with the leaders in her department. She went over dozens of charts and graphs. She talked through every bullet point, describing what wasn’t working and why. She knew her data was compelling. And, her leaders faithfully presented every chart to their direct reports. The results? A growing fear among some employees that they may be laid off and a belief among others that management was over-reacting. Productivity slowed down.

All jazzed up and nowhere to go. Steve held a special meeting that included every employee in his department. He was a charismatic, inspiring speaker, and to a person every employee committed to go back and figure out how to make things better. But when they returned to their jobs, employees were frustrated because they didn’t know what to do. So some just did what they’d always done, while others tried new things. Chaos, confusion, and frustration multiplied.

Process in a vacuum is not enough. Greg called a meeting with his Six Sigma Black Belt, and together they decided to define, implement, and measure new processes that would improve a host of current issues. They held meetings, lots of meetings, with department leaders and employees. Processes changed, and although a few employees resisted, some improvement occurred. But it wasn’t enough.

Communicate on three levels for consistent results. Elizabeth met with her department leaders, and they worked to create an integrated plan, involving three steps. They knew they needed to communicate on the:

  1. Intellectual level to ensure that employees understood the rationale behind the need to change.
  2. Emotional level to create buy-in and inspire employees to take action.
  3. Practical level so that all employees knew how they could make a difference to the organization’s success.

Elizabeth understood the importance of connecting on all three levels to make lasting, measurable behavior and process changes. Find out what she said and did on June 19 in the next Communicate with Moxie blog:  Effective Leaders Ask 3 Questions to Get Results.

Don’t forget to download your free eBook (see side bar):  Accelerate Organizational Change:  5 tips to transform employee disinterest, doubt, and fear into buy-in, engagement, and action.

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Are You a Leader Who Cares and Dares to Make a Difference?

Leaders who care and dare to make a difference

Did you know that when it comes to communication, three types of leaders exist?

  1. Leaders who can talk or write about anything to anyone to make things happen. But bottom line? They don’t care about the organization or anyone in it. They care about looking good.
  2. Leaders who care passionately about making a difference but don’t know how to capture attention or inspire people to take action.
  3. Leaders who care passionately and have the communication skills—or are willing to acquire them—to establish credibility and command attention to make things happen.

If you’re reading this blog, my guess is that you fall into the third category.

Welcome to the first post of Communicate with Moxie—the blog.  I chose this name because the best leaders are those who possess fortitude and determination, spirit and courage. They care about people, and they care about making a difference. I believe the best leaders are those who are willing to learn and apply innovative communication techniques to capture attention, challenge the status quo, and get results.

My commitment is to provide you with quick, easy access to research, tips, and tools about how to:

  • Build your confidence and credibility.
  • Acquire gender intelligence, what I call GQ, so that you are not shut down or discounted.
  • Understand different communication styles to leverage the differences to build strong teams.
  • Unlock your creativity with quotes, stories, games, and metaphors to spice up presentations and meetings and to gain commitment, buy-in, and action from direct reports, peers, senior leadership, and customers.
  • Reduce your own stress and respond creatively when others botch their communications with you.

Oh, and another thing? True leadership is not a title. It’s a state of mind. I am writing Communicate with Moxie for anyone who chooses to take the lead and make a difference.

Moxie. Although Apple may not have used the term in this old ad, the essence of leadership moxie is exactly what they captured by stating:  The ones who see things differently . . . They change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

I invite you to subscribe, send me your comments and ideas, and share with your colleagues. Most of all, I hope to provide you with innovative communication resources for you to use on your own leadership journey.

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