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12 May 2011

Dealing with Bosses Who Manage by Email (MBE)

A financial professional emailed me regarding bosses who “manage by email.” She implied that her boss rarely calls  or meets with employees. She asked, “What does this mean?” and “What should I do?”

First, email does provide certain efficiencies over personal interactions (phone calls and visits). However, from a relationship-building perspective the others are superior. Consequently, I advise managers to have at least one personal interaction with every employee every day.

Managers who MBE will do so for different personal reasons. Nevertheless, we can categorize them under one or both of the following:

  • Wanting to minimize their personal interactions
  • Liking something better about email communications

So, what do you do? Begin by uncovering the specific reasons under these broad preferences. Here are a couple sample questions to customize:

  • What are the advantages of emailing on ____ over meeting to discuss it periodically?
  • It seems you prefer to communicate by email; if so, would you share with me why so I can ensure I communicate effectively in them?

Their answers will give you a general direction as to what bosses like to see in their relationships. For instance, if he references efficiency, then speed might be more important than substance in his relationships. If she references documentation, she might prefer accountability, organization and recollection. If he references organizing or forming his thoughts, he might prefer control to spontaneity in relationships.

After gaining this insight, employees can initiate personal interactions and seek to deliver the attributes they’ve identified. Regardless, employees are wise to reverse the tables and make it a point to call or visit their bosses at least once a day. This will not only help protect their jobs but also help employees be happier and more successful in them.

2 Responses

  1. P.Nickel

    Or the manager/Boss just isn’t a “People person” I had a boss like that once. He would go to great lengths to avoid face to face interaction with the people who worked for him. Yet he was very successful at what he did, and ironically everyone loved him as a boss!! He just really didn’t enjoy having to deal with people on a personal level. It worked for him, he was very clear & concise in his emails as to what his objectives were, and we were free to respond however we felt led. But he absolutely as a last measure would ever deal with you face to face. We rarely ever saw him. Kind of weird!!

    1. Mike Lehr

      Patti, thank you for your insights. You’re right. It is possible. The post deals with employees who did not like the style and sought greater interaction with their bosses.

      As a general guideline, research shows a correlation between team success and in-person or phone interactions up to a certain point. It is exceptions like yours that allow us to see why the guideline is true. With all else being equal, MBE alone doesn’t bring success to team. What your example shows is that all emails are not equal. Your boss found a style that fit his personality. His emails were not equal to what we normally experience in the workplace. Without sunlight we would not be able to understand night. Without your boss, we would not understand what makes a good email.

      Thank you for visiting and leaving your experiences and insights. I appreciate it. ~Mike

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