A recent piece in the New York Times on Lincoln School of Management by Nancy F. Koehn caught my eye because of my collaboration with the Lincoln Leadership Institute in Gettysburg (http://www.gettysburgleadership.com/). My first thought was that my friends in Gettysburg have it right. The behaviors Koehn describes (..resilience, forbearance, emotional intelligence, thoughtful listening and the consideration of all sides of an argument.) are more leadership than management. But, I think that topic is a little esoteric for this blog.
My second reaction to the Koehn article was a reminder of a piece I prepared for LLI speculating on how our great president would have used e-mail. And, this I think is a good fit for Dr. Tilden’s Sales Prescription.
Lincoln frequently visited the War Department building to send and receive telegraph messages from his generals and other officers (the new technology had not yet reached the White House). However, the way Lincoln used technology was very different than how e-mail is used by many today. Simply put, he controlled it rather than allowing it to control him.
If Lincoln were alive today, he would send the following instructions through out his administration on the proper use of e-mail.
To: White House Staff
From: President Lincoln
Re: E-mail Guidelines
Date: January 2013
To begin, please note that this information is being sent by hard copy memo rather than e-mail. This is to reinforce my point that there are other means of communicating with one another around here. In fact, there are times when intended e-mail messages get misread and misunderstood.
Nothing is more important to the success of this administration than communicating effectively. The over reliance on e-mail has hindered our ability to communicate effectively and I therefore find it necessary to issue these guidelines on the use of e-mail in the White House.
Guideline One: If the message is important, send it face-to-face
Before you knee jerk to e-mail, think through the best mode for communication. E-mail is never a substitute for a face-to-face meeting. In fact, it is my view that there have been too many e-mails and too few face-to-face meetings going on in this White House. It might be acceptable to send an e-mail praising someone’s or a team’s performance, but it is never acceptable to reprimand via e-mail.
One of the problems with today’s communication technology, and this includes Power Point and e-mail, is that it is devoid of emotion. If the message is important, communicate it in person.
Guideline Two: Emancipation from E-mail Slavery
As you know, when the opportunity presents itself, I like to wander around the White House and drop in on my staff. The other day, I was discussing business with one of you who, each time he heard the beep signaling a new message, turned his head to look at his computer screen.
It made me wonder: what e-mail message could be more important than his meeting with the President of the United States?
My concern is that we have been conditioned like Pavlovian dogs. We hear a bell and we begin salivating for our next electronic fix. Please stop it. It is not healthy.
Remember that I am the guy who signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Please consider guideline two, your emancipation from e-mail slavery. Four times a day is plenty to check e-mail.
Further to the point, the next time someone checks a smart phone during a meeting with me, I am ordering all of them stricken from the White House. The offender will be right behind them.
Guideline Three: Check Your Grammar
When did it happen that we took communication guidance from kids who have just started shaving over the great classic writers? No, it is not acceptable to have sentence fragments and poor punctuation in any written communication, including e-mail. This is the White House, for heavens sake.
I know that some of you have referred to me in private as an over priced proofreader. That is OK. Humor is good. But somebody has to carry the mantle for proper grammar. It might as well be me.
Thus guideline three: check your grammar. You know that I will.
Guideline Four: Think Before You Hit Send
I want to clarify that these are guidelines for using e-mail, not a prohibition. E-mail can be an efficient method for some forms of basic communication. But, please think before you hit the send button. Ask yourself these questions:
Was I angry when I wrote it? If you answer yes, wait a day and read it again before sending. For example, I was fuming with General Meade for not pursuing Lee after our victory in Gettysburg. I wrote him a stinging rebuke. But, I never sent it. Today, I am glad I didn’t.
Any word usage that could be misunderstood? I once wrote discriminating meaning carefully selective and the reader thought I was referring to her as being discriminatory. Read your e-mail a second time and make sure you are unambiguously sending the message you intend before you hit send.
Who is going to receive it? There have many embarrassing situations caused by the reply all function. Before you hit send, make sure it is going to the people you intend to receive it.
Is it confidential or classified? Remember, this is the White House and we deal with a lot of sensitive material with national security implications. If you wouldn’t put it on a post card, don’t put it in an e-mail. Remember we have shredders for paper documents. But, an e-mail lasts forever.
In summary, there are four simple guidelines for the use of e-mail in the White House:
1. If the message is important, send it face-to-face.
2. You have been emancipated from e-mail slavery. Only check it four times a day.
3. Check your grammar.
4. Think before you hit send.
I am happy to discuss any of this with you. Just don’t send me another e-mail.