Subjecting to the (no subject) email
There may be no more disquieting a combination than an English teacher with anxiety. Pepper in some empathy and add a touch of savior complex, and we have ourselves a downright Frankensteinian creation. As such, we tend to make complicated what should be simple, we (over)analyze the simplest of circumstances, and we think, ad nauseum, about the lives and happiness of other people. It’s all very exhausting.
My superintendent, the best leader with or for whom I’ve ever worked, is notorious for the (no subject) email. So much so that when such emails come through, my Pavlovian response is to hold my breath for a second before opening them. Immediately, I start to wonder to what this could refer. Without a subject line, the possibilities are endless and rife with disaster.
I consider: did I make a mistake recently so egregious that he couldn’t even bring himself to name it in the subject line. I think: is what I’m about to read so sensitive that giving it a name in the subject line somehow emboldens it. I worry: should I get my resume together?
One of the most challenging parts of leadership is reminding ourselves that everyone is not going to lead the way we do. Accepting that reality is paramount to our growth. My superintendent is amazing at his job because he is uber pragmatic, definitive, and articulate; he’s also a former high school math teacher, so, unlike me, he economizes his words under the banner of efficiency. To him, a subject line is no more than an unnecessary adjective in an already long sentence. An adornment to an already busy wall.
To me, a subject line is the billboard you see as you drive up to the stadium for a concert. It alerts the reader to what’s to come, it provides brief context to pique the reader’s interest, and it has a touch of my own personality, which signals the mood and tone of the email to follow. None of this is necessary, none will enter my emails in a competition for most clever subject line. However, because of the Frankensteinian combination to which I referred earlier, I cannot bring myself to start an email without a trailer.
In order to level up our leadership, it is imperative that we reflect on these nuances as often as we can. For a moment, step back and take a panoramic shot of your leadership team. Consider what each member does exceptionally well and how those strengths contribute to the success of the team. Then, and this is the hard part, consider what each member does differently than you. Though you may not be able to understand the motivation behind such differences, each provides you with an opportunity to hold a mirror up to how you choose to lead. Finally, create your own Frankensteinian leader with spare parts left over from members of your team.
But for goodness sake, put a stinkin’ subject line.