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On leadership: boxed in your inbox?

The Life: Email appears to have ushered in a new management style, causing some disruption in the workplace.

I wonder if email has become a replacement for good old-fashioned leadership.

Being a fan of my iPad and smartphone and addicted to email like the rest of society, there is no doubt it has definitely changed the way we work. It appears to have become a core business activity as executives regularly speak of going to "do email" as if it were a critical action. Whenever I hear that I pause and wonder what do they mean. Do they mean "emptying" their inbox? Or filling up someone else's?

Nevertheless, in reality, business life has accepted the task of email and allowed it to replace the essence of management - communicating, assigning work, providing accountability and developing people.

It seems email has ushered in a new management style - so out with MBWA (management by walking around) and in with MBEA (management by emailing around). We used to manage face-to-face. In that environment, we knew our employees much better than we do in this email era.

It may be speedy to pop off a couple of words rather than pick up the phone or go see someone but this change in leadership style is causing some disruptions in the workplace.

No longer is the leader and the her diary in charge of the rhythm of business. Now, the inbox is as important as most leaders keep one eye on their email inbox or the little blinking light on the BlackBerry. When the "you've got mail" indicator illuminates, the temptation is to respond immediately. The speed of the inbox filling up and the desire to be prompt and keep the message count to a minimum has become a vicious game.

I wonder what started that off - the desire to respond in a timely fashion or to have a clean inbox?

Many times when pressing send, leaders forget about the emotion of work and the distraction an email can bring to a motivated worker. While unintentionally hiding behind the keyboard, leaders type words in ways they would never speak over a phone or face-to-face - whether they are one-word answers, bullet points or contentious phrases. Before you press send, think about the impact the email will have on the motivation of your employees.

Email is like any other form of communication and should focus on making the message clear for the recipient. When a leader looks at a computer screen and sees a reflection it is his or her own, often representing the thoughts of the sender. This reflection reiterates the need to see the other person and imagine you are speaking with him or her face-to-face. What would you say if you were face-to-face?

There is no doubt leaders intend to be clear and the message they are communicating is clear in their heads - but somewhere between pressing send and the message opening up in the recipient's inbox it gets stripped of context. I am curious how clear are the majority of emails employees read.

When relied on as a primary communication tool, email can be very dangerous. Open and honest two-way communication is one of the top drivers of employee engagement. Perhaps it is time we walk away from the keyboard and go lead.

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging market leadership, an advisor and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder and managing director of the Emerging Markets Leadership Centre

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