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Are Your Emails Hurting Your Leadership Presence?

by Alok Sawhney on

Recently, I was leading a remote team of eight volunteers to plan a large conference.  The team members were from all different generations, different experience-levels, and different parts of the U.S.  During one hectic workweek, I had a scheduling conflict with our bi-weekly planning call, which I was supposed to lead.  In haste, I responded to a group email, on an unrelated subject, to see if someone else could lead the call.  My email was not well received.

A few hours later, the president of our group (he was my boss for the conference planning) sent me an email with the subject line “Coaching”. In it, he made the point that professionals from different generations may have interpreted my email as being too informal, not being diligent in my preparation or giving off the perception that the conference call was not important.  The message went on to suggest that I should have asked for help in a more formal manner, and sent messages to individuals rather than the group.  I came away from with the experience with a lesson on the importance of email presence.

In 2017, an estimated 130 billion “business-related emails” will be sent per day — in one year alone.  How many of those are sent without regard to the email presence they create for the sender?

Email presence, how you’re perceived based on how you communicate through email, matters because it’s an extension of your professional reputation and we know that your reputation is a key factor in your long term career success.  For better or worse, other professionals will judge you based on your emails.  Your voice, your personality and your thinking are all on show.  For that reason alone, email presence is important and should not be overlooked (even when you are in a hurry).

Of course, there are many ways your email could be interpreted – it’s possible that someone on my team thought I was being expedient in solving a problem when they saw my infamous email – unfortunately, you do not have any control over that.  However, there are things you can do to enhance your email presence.

1. Be aware that you are creating an email presence. The first thing to do is be cognizant of the fact that every email you send creates an impression of you. This is especially true if the reader doesn’t know you well already, or hasn’t yet had the opportunity to reconcile your in-person presence with your email presence.

2. Re-read your email twice before sending. I am as guilty as the next person, probably even more so, of not always checking my work before I hit send. I try to be conscientious with my emails but even then, I skip words, have misspellings, and could have punctuated better.  Reduce these errors.  If email is the only impression, you get to make – make it a good one.  The next time you have to send an important email – proofread, proofread, proofread, and then have someone else proofread it.

3. If you are in rush, don’t send it. Save it (literally) for later.  At times when you are rushed, it may be best to type out your thoughts and then save the draft.  You can always send it later.  Don’t risk your email being taken in the wrong way, or being incoherent, because you just wanted to get it out.  Plus, messaging apps have gotten much better for informal communication – use those if you are in a hurry.

4. Check your exclamation marks. A well-placed exclamation mark can make a big difference in the tone of an email. However, it’s easy to go overboard. A nice rule of thumb is to use one exclamation mark per business email (if you use one at all).  Too many exclamation marks can come across as juvenile, sarcastic, or even panicked!!!

5. Use an opening and a closing. A simple “hello” is a welcoming beginning and shows that you’re thinking of the reader beyond the message you’re out to deliver. A closing can serve the same function. Some people just rely on their electronic signature to close out their emails, others add a more personal touch by typing out a pleasant phrase followed by their name or initials.  Be bold and change up your closing, an astute reader will realize that you take the effort to do so.

6. Know the “communication code”. I like the analogy of thinking of communication as clothing. In your closet of communication options, email is business casual. If you were going to your office, you wouldn’t dress up in your tux or evening gown, right?  Hence, for email, you don’t need all the formalities of an official letter.  Similarly, you most likely wouldn’t show up in your flip flops.  Unless your office is at the beach, in which case we need to talk.  So don’t be too informal in email; don’t use slang or overuse emoji’s, and cut down on the abbreviations you use when you text. Find a happy medium that’s comfortable to you and has the right amount of formality.  Find your business casual look.

7. Don’t send an email. There are lots of times when an email might not be the best way to communicate. As mentioned, quick, informal messages are likely better received through a messaging app. Urgent information warrants a phone call first. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your email presence is not use it.

As I rushed to send that email to my team, I was thinking too much, about what I had to get done and not enough about what my team needed, or how my message might appear to the receivers.  I now understand what my more seasoned colleague was teaching me about my email presence.

How do you manage your email presence? What have you found useful in enhancing your reputation through email?

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