A CEO rarely responds to an email.  If they do, the response might be a sentence or two.

A reply might say something like “Call me,” “Get on my calendar about this,” or “Let’s discuss in Tuesday’s meeting.”

There is a straight-line relationship between the number of emails sent (and read) and relative influence you have in a company. The higher up you climb, the fewer emails you will send and read.

Part of this is efficiency.  CEO's recognize that emails are not moving the company forward and that too much is lost in back and forth email communication. If the topic is relevant, it is worth a live discussion. Very few emails are worth the time invested by a CEO, especially if you break down their cost on an hourly rate. At over $1,000/hour, that email needs to contain something of high value, like say, the "Glengarry leads."

Part of this is time management. A CEO is responsible for many people and if they are cavalier about whom they email, soon everyone will be emailing them and expecting a response. Responding to emails sets an expectation that they can't live up to. This isn't to say that a CEO shouldn't converse with the front line. The best ones do this regularly, but they have to be smart about the forums they choose or risk receiving several thousand emails a day.

Part of this is risk management.  CEO's do not want to be "discoverable." No leader is more accountable than the CEO. Even being copied on a chain of emails that leads to undesirable business practices is enough to put a CEO at legal risk. Most CEO's I have worked with are strict about what they want to be copied on, and what they don't. Imagine an email chain with 15 executives, relating to a thorny legal issue that is yet to be resolved. If that issue snowballs into something bigger, a CEO copied on the chain will be the first person questioned about the decision, even if they had nothing to do with the decision.

This explains why email usage decreases as one moves up in stature, but doesn't explain why people on the front line put so much in writing.

  • Are you looking for cover from a manager copied on the email?
  • Do you not trust that your manager will support you?
  • Are you lacking the confidence to make decisions on your own?
  • Are you desperate for more recognition, and use your Inbox as a method of over-sharing every activity you work on?
  • If so, do you actually believe this is impressing your manager? Could it be that your emails are doing more damage than good, serving only to annoy your manager?
  • Are you uncomfortable communicating in-person or over the phone?
  • Do you lean on email as a crutch to cover for your inexperience and lack of training in live negotiation?
  • Are you just lazy? An email takes 20 seconds and a phone call takes five minutes. One is quick and ineffective in the long term, the other takes more time upfront but pays off over time.
  • Does your manager not trust you? Does your manager lack self-confidence and expect to be copied on every detail of your day? If so, have you scheduled a conversation to ask them why you can't be trusted?

If your goal is to become an executive or start your own business, it would be wise to cut way back on your use of email. With some exceptions, most executives and owners got to their position by outperforming their peers. They developed great habits over the years. If you want what they have, start behaving as they do.

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