Writing is an important leadership skill that is often overlooked. It is unlikely that you will ever see writing at the top of any list of important leadership skills. For a leader to be effective they must communicate their outlook, vision and worldview to the people they are leading. A leader who cannot communicate well using written words is going to be severely handicapped.
Another reason leaders need to write is to help them develop and clarify their ideas. Much of what makes someone a good leader is his or her viewpoint and perspective. Someone who makes good decisions usually does so because of how they look at problems. Someone who instinctively does the right thing will often have a difficult time explaining their decision-making process to others.
A leader who doesn’t take the time to develop and refine ideas and viewpoint can still be successful. But they will have a difficult time replicating their skills in others. You can’t teach someone to have the same “gut feeling” as you.
Leading Through Communication
It is possible for a leader to lead without using written communication. We have examples of many leaders who were unable to read or write. However, leadership greatly depends on communication and in modern times much of our communication is written. Written communication gives people a source to refer back to. If you only communicate verbally, there is no real standard to refer to if someone has a question.
It is also much easier to hold people accountable for something that you’ve communicated in writing. By putting your thoughts into words you give people a concrete standard that they can reference. Making your thoughts concrete can help align everyone’s efforts toward the same goal.
Clarifying Your Thoughts
Writing also gives you the opportunity to clarify your thoughts and better understand what you really think in your subconscious. Writing gives a leader the chance to privately develop their way of looking at problems in a way that can be communicated to others. In this sense, writing gives leaders a method for organizing and clarifying their thoughts. It allows them to take what they know instinctively and make it something concrete that can be conveyed to others.
This clarifying process can be immensely helpful in explaining strategy. Often a good leader will know what to do instinctively. However, the instincts of a single person are difficult scale for a large organization. Writing down the thoughts behind your instincts can allow you to replicate your skills in others.
The writing process can help you understand your decision-making methods in a deeper way. This makes it easier to teach your way of doing things to others. Often it will provide you with deeper insights into how you can make better decisions as well.
Writing isn’t the most important skill for a leader to possess. However, it is a very valuable skill to develop and practice because it lets you replicate and improve your other skills.
Deborah MacPhail Perry says
I think that technology and the social media have changed the emphasis on writing skills for leaders. Social media has reduced words to letters, emotion to smile/frown faces, and courtesy to “take it as it is.” What can we as hr people do to encourage the written word to regain the power it has had in the past?
I believe written communication, regardless of the forum has taken over verbal communication. It has become a lot easier, more desired and less confrontational to communicate with people via written communication. I think verbal communication is becoming a lost art. Life is about relationships and leadership is about relationships. Relationships are only truly cultivated thru that human interaction. So much can be lost in written communication. There will always be a need and importance for written communication; however, I believe that should be secondary to the one on one dialogue.
I think writing is essential in the working world in general, not just in a leadership role. Writing shows collectively how educated you are and how you can present your skills beyond verbally whether you’re a entry level or manager role.