Leaders must be good writers, too

You’ve most likely already drawn up your record of resolutions and objectives for 2022. Permit me to make a pitch for including yet another: bettering your writing abilities. Sure, that will sound like a type of evergreen objectives. But it surely’s notably related for management proper now. In spite of everything, most communications from leaders, whether or not they’re company-wide emails, memos, or tweets, begin out in written kind. Getting them proper helps construct a robust tradition—a much bigger problem now that some type of hybrid work goes to be with us for a very long time.

So leaders have to speak extra, and higher, to create a way that everybody is a part of a workforce. It jogs my memory of what Kip Tindell, cofounder and former CEO of The Container Retailer, a Texas-based retail chain, informed me in an interview years in the past: “One in every of our basis rules is that management and communication are the identical factor. Communication is management.”

And although there tends to be lots of focus lately on the type of presentation and spoken communication abilities which can be utilized in video calls, typically the extra old-school type of communication, writing, will get ignored. For every little thing from the “about us” web page of your web site to the emails you ship to workers and your communications with clients and shoppers, writing performs a big half in setting the tone of your tradition and your model.

I’ve two overarching tricks to share about the way to be a greater author, however earlier than I do, I ought to present a few sentences about my {qualifications} to weigh in on this topic. Though I work in management consulting now, I used to be a reporter after which an editor for 30 years, with 18 of these years on the New York Instances. I’ve seen again and again the traps that writers fall into. And people traps are hardly distinctive to journalism. Listed here are two of the largest ones. For those who can acknowledge and keep away from them, you’ll be a greater author, communicator, and chief.

The WSL downside

WSL stands for writing as a second language. I exploit it as a shorthand to explain how folks will usually deal with writing as if it had been a totally totally different type of communication from the best way they converse. They use sentence buildings that really feel much less pure, they usually begin reaching for extra formal or fancier phrases or phrases—like contrapuntal or eschew—that not often come up in on a regular basis dialog.

Possibly the aim is to sound sensible or to impress. Or perhaps a few of it goes again to our school days, when professors wished us to be taught educational writing, which regularly strikes me as a concerted effort to seek out extra abstruse methods to convey easy concepts. (And sure, I threw abstruse into that sentence deliberately, as one other instance of a type of phrases that folks not often use in dialog.)

Regardless of the intention, WSL results in an general tone that provides distance between the author and the reader. And that’s exactly the alternative of what’s wanted now from leaders. If there are fewer alternatives to listen to leaders converse in individual as a result of so many people are working from dwelling, then we have to “hear” them converse of their emails. A extra conversational writing tone shortens the gap between creator and viewers. It feels extra actual, which is what everybody craves at a time when we live extra of our lives on-line.

To protect towards WSL, simply apply this straightforward take a look at when reviewing what you’ve written: Does this sound like me? Would I speak like this if I had been talking face-to-face with a colleague? Studying aloud is an effective strategy to test for the WSL downside (particularly if, as a frontrunner, another person is writing the phrases for you).

The expert-itis downside

“Skilled-itis” occurs when folks get too near their topic. They assume everybody else is aware of as a lot as they do, in order that they give attention to the nuances of a selected matter or perception with out explaining the context.

Does all of your writing, as a frontrunner and in your group, cross the ‘cows, chickens, and taters’ take a look at?

It’s a totally predictable and comprehensible downside. I’ve labored with many reporters who’ve suffered at instances from expert-itis. They could have simply spent a month or extra doing a deep dive on a topic, they usually grew to become so immersed within the matter that it was exhausting for them to drag themselves again and get within the heads of readers who is likely to be hitting the fabric chilly.

Skilled-itis crops up in every single place. It’s why air journey can typically appear so tense. Take the guidelines tradition of airways’ security guidelines. Operational complexity usually bleeds into communications, complicated clients with byzantine explanations for easy procedures like the way to placed on a seatbelt. It’s one purpose that JetBlue Airways selected a chatty tone for its branding, together with check-in kiosks with screens that merely learn “Hey.”

Or attempt making sense of the “about us” pages on some company web sites, notably these of tech corporations. Right here’s only one instance: “Your database cases are deployed in a novel digital non-public cloud (VPC) to make sure community isolation. Different safety features embrace IP whitelisting or VPC peering, always-on authentication, encryption at relaxation and encryption in transit, subtle role-based entry administration, and extra.” Translation: we maintain your knowledge protected in our cloud by having distinctive, subtle authentication and encryption procedures.

Combatting expert-itis requires empathy. It’s worthwhile to get into the pinnacle of somebody who’s model new to the topic at hand and ensure you’re offering them with full context and rationales in order that they don’t really feel like they’re being left behind.

To assist guard towards WSL and expert-itis, it’s helpful to remember this lesson that Susan Salka, the CEO of California-based AMN Healthcare, mentioned she discovered from her father: “If anyone was speaking over his head, utilizing huge phrases, being too complicated, or making an attempt to behave too subtle, he would say, ‘Would you break that right down to cows, chickens, and taters?’”

Salka added: “I used to assume it was foolish—what do cows, chickens, and taters need to do with each other? However years later, I noticed that the message is, maintain it easy. Don’t overcomplicate issues.”

Does all of your writing, as a frontrunner and in your group, cross the “cows, chickens, and taters” take a look at?