Leadership and Lure of Email

How often do you spend in your email each day, sifting through your inbox, reading, reviewing and responding, attempting to reach that glorified empty inbox by the end of the day?

The fact is - the majority of CEO and leadership work does not happen on email - it happens face-to-face. According to a Harvard Business Review study, only about 15% of a CEO’s time is spent on email. How do you compare?

At the 2018 Trajectify Leadership Retreat, we heard that dealing with the time-consuming and dreaded sea of emails was a common complaint regarding the stresses of a leader.


When asked how frequently they checked emails, responses varied greatly. There is not a right or wrong way to handle the inbox. Some suggested clearing your inbox at the end of every day to start fresh the next day. Others suggested responding immediately to only the important email and snoozing the ones who do not need an immediate response to a delegated day.

When you receive an email, one attendee suggested reading the subject immediately to determine its importance and then triage. “Open it and deal with it, delicate it, or snooze it. Snooze it till 8am on Sunday when you have time to get back to it. But never open and email and leave it. If you open it, you must handle it right away.”

The Harvard  Business Review released The Leader’s Calendar in the summer of 2018, a package that examines the unique time management challenges of CEO’s and how to handle them based on a twelve year study. “In theory, e-mail helps cut down on face-to-face meetings and improve productivity. In reality, many find it ineffective and a dangerous time sink – but one they have trouble avoiding.”

Email has the potential to interrupt the work we try to do every day, extending the work day indefinitely. With ubiquitous access to email, CEO’s have the ability to check email everywhere and any time. Emails have trained many leaders in FOMO.

The unfortunate truth of email: The majority of emails sent to CEOs and leaders rarely require their attention. This creates an unnecessary downward spiral of communication throughout the organization. Setting expectations early can prevent this from ever growing. Make it clear with your team what is necessary for leaders to receive, communicate an expected response rate, and consider guidance on the proper time to send an email (e.g., not after work hours or on holidays). HBR suggests adapting automatic email filters, delegating emails to other employees before the seeing them.

The biggest downfall of email behaviors is the prevention of face to face interactions. Email is impersonal and reactive when we need to stay human and authentic, a trait that is not visible in email.

Many of the leaders at our retreat faced a reality that they do not spend enough face-to-face and one-on-one with their team. Improving internal communications is a win for everyone. Spending more time face-to-face not only creates a transparent and approachable culture, but saves you from so much time in your email inbox.