Wed, February 21, 2024

Thoughts from the General: Managing in the electronic world

Perry M. Smith, Jr.

In the 4th edition of the book Rules and Tools for Leaders, there is a chapter that describes the opportunities and challenges of the electronic workspace.

Here are a few examples that may be helpful.


Batch your activities. Reserve one hour each morning and two hours each afternoon to focus totally on electronic and telephone interactions. Let your colleagues, clients, and friends know that you will be available electronically from 10 to 11 and from 3 to 5. Also, let them know that you will not be available electronically for the rest of the day and night, except for real emergencies. During the hours when you are not batching, with very few exceptions, do not answer emails or phone calls.

Discussions with others 


Never, ever, look at your phone or your computer while you are in a meeting, whether with one person or with many. If you answer calls or emails in meetings, you will not be giving folks your full attention. They will notice and reciprocate. They will not give you the full attention you require and expect. Ask folks that you are meeting with to turn off all their electronic devices. Old-fashioned eye-to-eye contact with both parties listening intensely still works well.


Responsivity cannot be delegated, but authority can be. By delegating aggressively, you will not receive as many emails. Your associates will know they can decide on many issues on their own, meaning, they will not have to check with you. Also, delegation helps build morale and trust – both ways. Finally, giving power away is important; not grabbing it back is even more important.

Respect the free time of your subordinates and don’t contact them at home.
Respecting subordinates’ free time

Too many leaders send out emails at night and on weekends. In many cases, these leaders demand quick answers or action. This infringement on a subordinate’s sacred free time leads to dissension, distrust, and moral issues, not only for the employee but also for the family. Over time, the performance of the organization will suffer and you may lose some of your best associates.

A future article will explain the four D’s of electronic communications: Do it, Delegate it, Designate it, Delete it.

Note: In addition to the chapter on the electronic workspace, Rules and Tools for Leaders contains chapters on hiring, firing, planning, decision-making, mentoring, self-discipline, non-profit management, and taking over. Also, there are chapters on dealing with failure, the media, bad bosses, and crises. Each chapter includes a handy checklist. When you are about ready to give associate bad news, the firing checklist can keep you from missing important steps. Similarly, since you probably don’t hire someone very often, the hiring checklist may also be helpful.

Perry Smith’s most recent book is Listen Up: Stories from Pearl Harbor, Vietnam, the Pentagon, and Beyond. In this book, there are nine flying stories, four media stories, six Pentagon stories, and three stories of Smith’s major failures. 

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