Reply All

It happened this week.  Someone sent a short, informative email to the staff in their school.  Instead of using the email group for their staff though, they used an email group that included a much larger number of people.  And so it began.

“Please remove me from this email group.”

“I think I got this email by mistake.”

“If you go to More and click Mute, you can end this string.”

And the memes.  So many memes.

It happens.  Not often at all, but at least once a year it seems to happen.  Some unsuspecting person clicks the wrong email group and we get 24 hours of interesting.  If no one hit “reply all”, it would end with that first email.  But that is the one thing that never happens.  It really is a social experiment of sorts.  People react so differently. Most are silent. Some get angry and impatient.  And a few get funnier than I could ever hope to be.  Clever.  Witty.  Creative.

This week I decided to just soak it in and look for the life lessons…happens when you commit to blogging every week. So what did I take away from the experience?

1- Know Your Technology – Do your best to avoid using the wrong email group.  Do your best to check that you are replying just to the person who sent the email and not to the whole group.  Learn the tricks to mute a conversation when something like this happens.

2- Show Grace- No one intentionally emails a message to the wrong group.  Accidents happen.  (At least they seem to happen to me with some frequency.)  Simply hitting delete is likely the most gracious response.  Likely the person who sent it already feels terrible.

3- Laugh- I think what I most appreciated this week was the humor.  Many (one in particular who will remain nameless) took the opportunity to connect with other people they had never met and share a funny moment.  No one was mean-spirited.  Many were incredibly creative. All made me laugh.  And laughing is something I don’t think many of us do often enough.  I am thankful for the people who find ways to make others smile.

Last year this same thing happened on an epic scale.  An email was sent to the entire District in error.  It was quite the morning.  After the same varied responses that happened this week happened with almost 3,000 staff members, our Superintendent jumped in.  He was gracious, he was funny and creative, and he put an end to it.  Exactly what needed to happen.  When leaders find ways like this to connect, it is powerful.  Life is serious.  Once in awhile, we should lighten up.

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

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I stumbled this week.  I was presenting a report to our Board of Education.  It was an important project over two years in the making, and when the moment came, I flubbed it.  Now it could have been much worse, but I certainly provided the comic relief in a pretty serious meeting.

I had prepared for that moment for months.  I had written my comments weeks earlier.  I ran through what I was going to say over and over.  I didn’t sleep much the night before, but I thought I was ready for anything.

And then, when the moment came, I tripped up.  I got too excited and jumped right over protocols (and the Board of Education) and into my speech.  Everyone laughed.

I had a decision to make at that point, and thankfully the other people in the room showed me the right thing to do.

“That was awesome.”

“You rock.”

When I was done, my text messages were supportive and fun.  The lesson from my colleagues was clear.  “Don’t take yourself too seriously.”

Leaders are so often in serious situations.  Real, difficult, serious situations.  The opportunity to lighten the mood is not always evident. It would often times not be appropriate.  But when  the moment does present itself- run with it!  Life is short and too often hard.  If there is an opportunity to see the funny side, take it.  Take it especially if it means poking fun at yourself.  Moments like that can teach you humility.  People need to know…you need to know…that you are human, that you err, and that you recognize your mistakes and can give yourself grace.

I think it is important to note here that laughing at other people is never okay.  In my case, the room was filled with friends.  Everyone was clearly laughing with me and not at me.  Humor is essential to effective leadership.  Humor at your own expense can ease tensions and build relationships.  But humor at someone else’s expense will almost always damage relationships.

I wish that I had been nothing but poised and professional in my meeting.  I wish that it had gone the way I played it out in my head all those times. But it didn’t, so the options were clear: stress and worry about it, beat myself up about it, or laugh and move on.  Humor isn’t always the appropriate response, but whenever it is possible, don’t take yourself too seriously.