Engaging Leaders...One Email at a Time

Tips and Techniques

The Leadership Challenge® Workshop is an amazing experience for so many people. Time spent with others making commitments as to how they will engage in the behaviors and practices of exemplary leadership really gets leaders fired-up about making substantive changes in their work and personal lives. You see the passion and purpose in participants’ eyes as they walk out of the workshop. And we, as facilitators and coaches, “hope” we have provided each and every person the tools they need to be successful.

However, when we visit with these same leaders a few weeks later, the fire we once saw is now merely a flicker: the “real world” of work has overshadowed the excitement they had in the workshop. And despite our best efforts—e.g., post-workshop learning trios, individual coaching sessions, following up with one-day sessions at six months—we wonder if maybe, just maybe, there was something more we could do to help keep that passion burning brightly.

One leader of a government social service agency I have worked with extensively—training nearly 600 leaders in The Leadership Challenge—has implemented a creative way of keeping others focused on The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® with meaningful and targeted email communications. Each weekly email reminds them of one of the 30 behaviors associated with The Five Practices, encouraging leaders to focus their thoughts and actions on that specific area for the entire week. And, unique among other organizations I work with, this client also includes inspiring quotes and links to additional resources, from YouTube and Ted Talks to HBR, which truly bring the Practices to life and continue the learning. Here is one example:

Email Title: What Can We Learn?

Behavior #18 – Asks “What can we learn?” when things don’t go as expected.

Good morning LCers! (Leadership Challengers)

Last week, I started highlighting the behaviors of The Leadership Challenge in hopes of focusing our thoughts and actions on one topic for an entire week. As a reminder, we focused on Behavior #9 - Actively listens to diverse points of view. How did that go for you? Did you see a difference? I would love to hear your stories from your week!

This week, I want to focus on Behavior #18 – Asks “What can we learn?” when things don’t go as expected.

This is really an easy concept to understand but, at the same time, really difficult to put into practice— especially in a fast-paced environment like ours. I think the reason it is so difficult to put into practice is because it takes a high level of vulnerability on the part of everyone involved in the process. We are often quick to look for someone or something to blame when things don’t go as expected. We often ask “What went wrong” verses “What can we learn?” and there is a HUGE difference.

Here also is some cool stuff I found that may help make this behavior a little easier to put into practice:

I hope and trust that you find value in some of these resources and that, either at work or at home, when something doesn’t go the way that we had anticipated we ask “What can we learn?” versus “What went wrong?”.

Finally, thank you so much for your personal commitment to The Leadership Challenge! We are hearing wonderful success stories about how The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® are being creatively implemented. If you have a story that you would like to share, please give me a call or send me an email! We would all like to celebrate your small (and big) wins!

Enjoy the week!

Notice how the email mentions the focus from the previous week and encourages reflection?
As a reminder, we focused on Behavior #9 - Actively listens to diverse points of view. How did that go for you? Did you see a difference? I would love to hear your stories from your week!
This encourages leaders to stay engaged, providing small reminders that leadership is about learning. 

Another example focuses on seeking out challenging opportunities to test leadership skills, and includes the following message: 

Email Title: Challenge Yourself… 

Behavior #3 – Seeks out challenging opportunities that test his/her own skills and abilities. 

It’s pretty easy to get comfortable, isn’t it? Be it at work or in our personal lives, we as human beings generally choose to take the path of least resistance. Why wouldn’t we, right? We have the ability to create scenarios, situations, and processes in our life that make our day “easier”. Most of the time this can be a really good thing! Can you imagine doing everything that we need to do every day without so many of the “shortcuts” we have created? 

I think this is why this exemplary leadership behavior, associated with the Practice of Challenge the Process, is so critical to our growth and development as leaders. Consider the following quote: 
Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.
 —Robert F. Kennedy 

We need to challenge ourselves to seek out opportunities to do not what is easy and convenient but what is hard and difficult, because through this we grow and help others around us to grow as well. 

What is one skill or ability you would like to improve on over the next 30 days? Think about that. Then, I challenge you to share your goal with someone you trust and ask them to hold you accountable to challenge yourself to achieve it. 

Here are a couple of things I found that might help with this challenge:

So, what part of your “ordinary” do you want to make extraordinary? What have you been wanting to do as a leader that seems a bit out of your comfort zone? Take a few minutes to write down your thoughts and begin to challenge yourself over the next week to take steps to move forward on these. And as always, keep me posted on your progress! 

As you can see, these emails are constructed in a manner that engages the reader with:
  1. A “catchy” email subject line 
  2. Stating which singular behavior you will be addressing in the email 
  3. A quick story to catch the reader’s attention 
  4. A familiar quote or idea that is inspiring 
  5. A reminder of the importance of this specific behavior 
  6. A call to action 
  7. A video, article, or other resource whose message reinforces the behavior you want your leaders to focus on 
Through email communication like this, you have a great tool to help participants remain focused on the individual behaviors that support their own leadership journey. The power of each of the leadership behaviors can be reinforced both in the content and in the challenges you present to leaders. Encouraging reflection, keeping leadership and The Five Practices ‘top of mind’ will help the organization continue to build the language of leadership.



Renee Harness
is founder of Harness Leadership and a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge. Her leadership journey has included helping leaders at Charles Schwab and Co., Inc., Roche Diagnostics, and in her consulting practice to fully engage those around them. She can be reached at renee@harnessleadership.com

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