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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Why Great Leaders Should Be Great Writers

Much has been written on the qualities of a good leader. Top-10 lists from leadership gurus and online articles generally offer characteristics such as "influential," "passionate," "dedicated," "disciplined," and "great communication skills" (to name a few) as the most valued qualities a leader can demonstrate. However, not all these lists touch on one of the most important qualities of a great leader, which is being a great writer.

There's a reason why degree programs across a variety of fields require extensive writing—writing is an essential skill in the business world. Equally, there are several reasons why leaders should focus on honing their writing abilities, especially if they want to build their personal brand as someone who knows how to lead and lead well.

As a leader, you're likely writing a lot. It simply comes with the territory in most management or leadership positions. Whether it's a quick memo or a larger thought leadership piece to be published in the company newsletter, every word you write will reveal something about your character. So let's discuss how this happens and the reasons why to hone your writing skills even more if you are in a leadership role.

Leaders are influencers and good writing influences

Leaders are good writing influences
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You've likely often heard the adage, "The pen is mightier than the sword." While this proverb was written in reference to a free press being more important than political violence, it holds true for other facets of life as well.

Good writing can be enormously influential. It can sway hearts and minds, it can clarify points that were unclear, it can rally support for a cause, and it can bring people together with an inspiring message. As a leader, being able to do these things through your writing is crucial if you want to gain the type of respect and devotion great leaders need to get things accomplished.

Particularly if a company is experiencing quick growth, sharing your vision and strategy through writing ensures that everyone is on the same page with a shared mission for the future. While writing doesn't replace face-to-face conversation, it can offer leaders a valuable way to connect with employees and relate information that is personalized to a particular department or initiative.

Another reason leaders should be producing thoughtful, well-written content is that it allows them to be influencers within their industry, as well. Trade journals, industry magazines, online forums and many other publishing opportunities are available to push written content and build your "brand" as a thought leader and expert in your field.

Leaders should model great communication skills

Leaders should model great communication skills
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Ronald Reagan, John Kennedy, Barack Obama, Martin Luther King, Jr.—some of the greatest leaders in history have also been great communicators and writers. Being able to speak comfortably (and write the same) to any audience is the mark of a leader who understands the importance of their position and doesn't take it lightly.

And leaders like these also understood that every word spoken (or written) could have enormous consequences. Therefore, every word must be chosen with care and concern that seeks to avoid miscommunication or misunderstandings within an organization. As Mark Twain wrote, The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.

Another mark of modeling these communication skills is when leaders are able to successfully communicate with people on their level. Whether this is speaking to employees, members of a board, leadership team peers, or another organization—finding the right words and expressions to connect with others is crucial to maintaining the kind of respect a leader needs to maintain to effectively lead others.

Leaders should demonstrate creativity and passion—both can be done through writing

Leaders should demonstrate creativity and passion
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Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple, once said, You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you're not passionate enough from the start, you'll never stick it out. He also practiced what he preached. According to this article, Steve Jobs' passion and creativity not only helped found Apple—it moved the company into wildly unpredictable success through his constant push for new gadgets and fresh ideas being brought to life. Jobs was, above all else, creative in his pursuit of new technology and this became evident from his earliest leadership role.

One of the easiest ways to demonstrate this level of passion and creativity is through writing. Something as simple as a company newsletter with articles from thought leadership circles allows employees to see the level of passion their leaders have for the organization and their role in it. Building on this, leaders can show their creativity through discussing ideas of future growth or changes while asking for feedback from others in the process.

Leaders should be trusted and poor writing/grammar decreases that

Leaders should be trusted
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When your writing is full of grammatical errors, poor word choice, confusing structure, or spelling issues, your audience will not take you as seriously—it's a simple fact about human nature. This is especially true for leaders, who need to maintain integrity in their work, communication, and role as an influencer. Leaders work hard to build their image. They want to be seen as capable and trustworthy, especially in a time when there is a general lack of trust in leadership among employees. A lack of employee trust due to a leader's poor communication skills (whether written or spoken) can sow seeds of doubt in the leader's ability to do his or her job effectively.

What to do (and what to avoid)

Now that you understand the reasons why great leaders should be great writers, let's break it down into some best practices to follow, along with mistakes to avoid. These rules pertain to writing that is made public (or at least available to everyone in the company), such as newsletters, online forums, industry publications or website content.

As a leader, your writing should…

  • Be positive, encouraging, hopeful and inspiring. These qualities make people want to read what you have written because they like to be uplifted and inspired.
  • Be tactful. Sometimes choosing the right word can mean the difference between your writing coming across as disparaging or encouraging.
  • Model the attitude and philosophy of your company, organization, or brand. As a leader, you are the voice of your company or department. Make sure that voice reflects well on your business.
  • Be well researched, without inaccuracies in statistics or facts presented.

Your writing should not…

  • Include public shaming or fault-finding in others. This sort of negativity in purpose will only do more harm than good, in most situations. If there is a problem to address, it is often best handled through face-to-face conversation with the parties involved.
  • Have any grammar, syntax, punctuation, or spelling errors. As mentioned earlier, these types of easily avoidable mistakes can affect a leader's reputation negatively. With online editors available and many offering 1 to 2-hour turnaround times for projects, there's really no excuse to publish writing containing these errors.
  • Include quotes or references to others' work without proper citation of the source material.

Above all, keep in mind that developing your skills as a writer isn't something that can happen overnight. Continue to learn best practices as a writer and expert in your field, and you'll find that your writing will improve (along with your leadership skills).

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