Six Writing Tips for Effective Leadership
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CBN.com We’re all writers. Some of us tweet, maintain a blog or have a personal website. Others of us, at our jobs, send out occasional office-wide emails or memoranda. Many of us keep in touch with friends and family via letters and email. As this new coming-of-age generation becomes empowered by the Internet and other new media, written communication will again become all the more prevalent and important — especially for leaders at home, in the workplace, in schools or in the church.
Writing skills make the difference between being boring or being enjoyable; between inducing groans or bringing a smile; between moving people to action or keeping them idle; between convincing people that they ought to take seriously what you have to say or write you off as unimportant.
Here are a few widely accepted best practices for leaders who want to write better.
“Vigorous writing is concise. Omit needless words.”
This venerable advice comes from the late William Strunk, who authored The Elements of Style. Prefer the concise to the ornate. Ask yourself “What is the main point I want to communicate?” Once you’ve determined it, examine each word. If it contributes to that overarching point, keep it in. Otherwise, toss it out. This isn’t to say there’s anything inherently wrong with long pieces of writing, but every word should earn its inclusion in the final composition. Distill your sentences and paragraphs to their cleanest components. Good leaders respect readers’ time by not giving them line after line of meandering, hard-to-decipher sentences. Clearly state what you mean and move on.
The Art of Writing is Rewriting.
Don’t expect to get it right on the first pass. You won’t. And neither do most authors or professional writers. Reread, revise and rewrite. Sleep on it if time allows. You’ll be amazed at how much you’re able to improve what you’ve written. And when it comes time to give the speech, publish the blog post, mail the letter, or whatever, you’ll be glad you spent the extra time and effort. Your audience will, too.
Simplicity is Good.
Write with nouns and verbs. No need for excessive adjectives, adverbs and prepositional phrases that interrupt the flow of your sentence. On the whole, it’s rather unnecessary and it can make your writing sound somewhat meandering, a little unsure and a bit apologetic. Strong leaders are confident enough to say what they mean.
“Never use abstract words when concrete ones will do.”
This advice comes from C.S. Lewis, one of the most prolific Christian writers of the 20th century. Why use the phrase “at this point in time” instead of simply “now”? Or say “mortality rose” instead of “more people died”? “Due to the fact that” instead of “because”? Simply stated, trim clutter out of your writing; it doesn’t earn you any extra respect.
Business proposals, corporate memos, official statements, government proclamations and funding grant applications are notorious for containing such clutter. This sin of writing, oddly enough, tends to occur “in proportion to education and rank,” remarks William Zinsser in his book On Writing Well.
On the other hand, C.S. Lewis’s prose — from his literary criticism at Oxford to his Chronicles of Narnia books for children — is readable and inviting because he doesn’t inflate words in an effort to sound more important or knowledgeable than his readers. He bears a mark of true leadership in saying only what is actually worth saying.
There’s No Excuse for Misspellings, Missing Words and Other Errors.
In a text message to your best friend, mistakes are inconsequential. But when writing anything that might be seen by a large audience or someone who should take you seriously (such as a potential client or a government official), mistakes are costly. Comb back through your writing with eagle eyes. Read it aloud and make any corrections necessary. If you don’t know the answer to a question about spelling, punctuation or grammar, then ask someone who does or look it up yourself.
Write in a Way That is Inviting and Personable.
In his book Writing with Style, author John Trimble gives writers some apt advice: Readers should buy two things. First, the writer’s main idea, assertion or call to action. Second, the writer herself. “You want them to view your ideas as sound and interesting, and to view you as smart, informed, direct and companionable.”
Those who are serious about leading well will follow Trimble’s advice and Lewis’s example. The strength of your writing should derive primarily from the soundness of the idea you’re putting forth.
Then, earn the trust of your audience by writing to them like you would speak to your friend. Be authentic.
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