Avoid setting up an email for failure

I got an email last night, which started like this.

Dear all,
Firstly, let me apologise for this note, which is rather long and technical. You might want to fortify yourself with tea and biscuits before reading…

The email that followed was indeed long and technical. But it was also really useful and entirely appropriate. It was timely, in that it related to an issue discussed in a meeting earlier that day, it had exactly the right information, it was exactly the length it needed to be and was written in a tone that was friendly and informative. It was a great email.

However.

By STARTING with an apology, and by pointing out some things that weren’t great about it, the author was “priming” his readers towards thinking the email would be boring/tedious/complicated/difficult.

He was setting their subconscious elephants off down a track that made it more likely they would hate the email. And thus not pay attention to its contents.

I get it. You don’t want to inflict stuff on your colleagues that they’re not really interested in and you want them to know that you know they’re not really interested in it. So you apologise before you’ve started.

In many ways this is just dialling up the humility a bit, which can be a useful thing to do sometimes. But not at the start of an email. Don’t do it.

All it does is weaken the power of your message and make it more likely that people will ignore what you’re saying.

You don’t have to go overboard. Don’t try to oversell the thing.

Just keep it factual and informative.

Dear all,
Following on from our discussion this afternoon, I wanted to share the key points of the policy we were talking about and direct you to relevant resources…

“Key points” says “short and to the point, it won’t take you long to read this.”

“Direct you to relevant resources” says “I want to help, you can find what you need by reading this email.”

These things prime the reader in the other direction. It steers the subconscious elephant to a path that says “This email will be useful to me. I should pay attention.”

First impressions count. In emails as well as in person. Don’t put yourself on the back foot before you’ve started.

Grab a copy of my FREE eBook – 6 Keys to Leadership to find out more about Confidence vs Humility and getting the balance right between them.

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Coping with uncertainty

How long can you handle things being unclear?

Uncertainty and lack of clarity can be paralysing. “We have to wait until we know how [this thing] will turn out before deciding what to do and how to do it.”

Sometimes the leadership thing to do is cut through uncertainty, identify the key point, create clarity for the team and get things moving forward. 

But.

Often… the thing to do… is wait. 

Live with the uncertainty. Hold the jaws of the situation open for a while. Help your colleagues cope with things being unclear.  

Because sometimes the situation just IS unclear and will remain so. 

Letting things play out, rather than rushing to an answer, can let the context emerge or settle, and opinions shift towards a consensus. Your own understanding and ideas will develop. Eventually the answer can just appear as an obvious truth. 

You have to choose. Decide quickly and get moving? Or live with the uncertainty and let the answers emerge?

Remembering you have this choice is a leadership skill in itself. 

Gender in Confidence vs Humility

Big thank you to those who have grabbed my FREE eBook – 6 Keys to Leadership.

In the book I talk about 6 key leadership traits and how some of them play off against each other. 

Two of the traits are “confidence” and “humility”. To lead well you need both and you have to balance them against one another so you’re doing both at the same time. I talk about this a lot in the book. Get yourself a copy by clicking here.

Extra special thanks to those who’ve taken the trouble to send me some feedback.

Including this great comment/question on confidence and humility. 

As a leader who happens to be a woman, I frequently encounter advice that women should never suggest that we might not be aware of everything, or use language that suggests humility. Whilst I dislike the stereotyping of leadership traits by gender and know plenty of leaders of both genders who could do with showing more humility, it might be good to show how your philosophy fits with this very prevalent view?

Ask clever people what they think and they’ll throw big issues at you. 

The point being made, I think, is that women are often (annoyingly) seen as “meeker” and “less dominant” than men. As such advice is often given suggesting women remove words like “I just” and “I may have overlooked something” in professional conversation. Or in other words, dial back the humility a bit. Add a little confidence.

I think my answer to this has two parts. One is about your natural “confidence vs humility balance”. The other is about the nature of your environment (and the people in it) in terms of how “confidence vs humility” is viewed and the extent to which “typical gender stereotypes” are ingrained.

I’ve known plenty of women leaders who don’t need to add any confidence. They never say “I just” anything. And I’ve known plenty of men who are WAY too humble in a leadership sense. 

Everyone has a natural confidence vs humility balance. A tendency to lean one way or the other. The stereotype, of course, leading to the advice mentioned above, is that women tend to lean on the humility side. Whether that’s true for you or not, whatever your gender, reflect on this balance a little. What’s your natural tendency? Do you need to shift it a little to have more impact?

And what’s your environment like? In terms of how it handles gender issues AND how it handles confidence vs humility? 

If your workplace is already really gender-aware and sensitive to these things, you’ll need to do less correcting for the biases of your colleagues.

If your office is full of strongly confident people and confidence is necessary to make an impact, and you tend towards humility… consider dialling up the confidence. 

When you’ve figured out your “general state” the trick is noticing when you need to dial up your weaker component a bit and dial back your stronger one.

There’s some advice on that in the eBook.  Do go get a copy. And post a comment here to tell me what you think about gender vs confidence vs humility. 

Moments to review and reset

My job is in higher education. Lots of things are tied to an academic year schedule. There’s a rhythm to it that’s helpful. 

Because it gives natural opportunities to assess and reset. 

Whatever your role, wherever you are in the hierarchy, it’s really important to regularly look at your priorities, your plans and your progress. To review the internal and external context. And ask yourself…  

What’s changed? 

What’s finished? 

What’s started?

Do your priorities still make sense? Or has the world moved on?

Are your plans delivering what you thought they would? And is what you thought then still relevant?

So… When is your next opportunity to review and reset? 

Take a moment to identify one to four slots in the year that makes sense with your organisation’s flow of activity and block out a little time to make sure you, and your colleagues, are on the right track.