Written by Sarah Macfadyen
"The art of communication is the language of leadership."
– James Humes, former presidential speechwriter
It's no secret that leaders benefit from being able to write well.
The written word is a powerful tool for uniting people and effecting change. Writing well allows you to communicate ideas clearly, connect with others on a personal level, and establish your credibility—skills vital to leaders in all disciplines.
But the principles of good writing are more central to leadership than that; they reflect, even sharpen, the characteristics of a good leader.
Whatever your leadership role—city councillor, business owner, or university club president—honing your writing skills can increase your ability to lead.
The skills and qualities you must cultivate to become a great writer with also help you learn how to lead others well; all it takes is the willingness to heed the lessons you're learning and incorporate them into your leadership style.
Commitment to Precision
Let's begin with the most basic attribute of good writing: sound grammar. As an employee of an editing and proofreading company, I'll admit a slight bias here. Yet attention to grammar in your writing reflects attention to detail in your overall performance.
While leaders tend to be big-picture thinkers with grand visions of what the future could hold, they must also understand the smaller steps required to reach that vision. Breaking a goal into manageable tasks, delegating and teaming up with others, and evaluating the effectiveness of the whole process are details leaders must manage daily.
How does this relate to spelling chrysanthemum or using a semicolon correctly, you ask?
A lot, actually.
Good grammar requires a commitment to excellence, down to the last letter. Even for those who are grammatically proficient, it necessitates investing extra time to ensure you used the right word or capitalized a title properly.
As you cultivate a devotion to perfection in your writing, even in the smallest details, you'll become a more patient leader who is willing to spend time on little things that make a big difference.
Commitment to Clarity
There's more to writing than grammar, though. The following two sentences make that clear:
The cat jumped on the couch and went to sleep.
The ginger cat jumped on the couch and kneaded the cushion, as if in a trance, before coiling itself into a near-perfect circle for a nap.
Both sentences are grammatically correct, but one is clearly superior, helping the reader paint a visual picture. Good writers are aware of their writing's style and flow, and by doing things such as varying sentence length, using descriptive language, and organizing points logically, they ensure their writing is engaging, compelling, and easy to read.
The skill being employed here is the ability to understand and control how others perceive you and your message—an important skill for leaders. Whether you're emailing employees or speaking with an associate at an event, you must learn to manipulate others' opinions of you—not to be disingenuous, but to ensure they understand your plans, passion, and personality.
Commitment to Accuracy
Good writing isn't good writing if it is riddled with false information and makes claims it cannot support. Good leaders are not good leaders if they ask others to follow blindly and ignore the quality of their decisions.
Just as writers must substantiate claims with evidence from others, leaders must listen to sound advice and make decisions accordingly. As a leader, you can't ask others to follow you without demonstrating you have carefully considered your course, have consulted with others who are wise and knowledgeable, and will adjust your opinions should the facts point to a different conclusion.
Researching and citing sources is vital to good writing, and if you invest the time and patience required to doing it correctly, this commitment to accuracy will translate to your leadership style, helping you carefully plan and communicate the best course of action to those you lead.
Commitment to Openness
In his essay "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell writes, "Never use a long word where a short one will do."
The aim is to avoid overcomplicated jargon that, at best, clouds the writer's point entirely and, at worst, tells lies under the appearance of truth.
Here, good writing and good leadership align very closely. Good writers use plain language to communicate simply, powerfully, and honestly. Good leaders should strive for a similar honesty, being open with peers and followers about their mission, goals, and processes.
It's easy to fall into the trap of trying to sound smart at the cost of actually conveying your meaning. However, plain writing can be powerful, and an honest leader can be inspiring.
Being a good writer doesn't necessarily guarantee that you're suited to leadership roles, but many great leaders are also great writers, and the two share many similar skills. By brushing up on these skills, you'll become both a better writer and a better leader.
Image source: Brooke Lark/Unsplash.com
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Sarah is the content marketing coordinator at Scribendi. An editor-turned-marketer, she organizes and publishes blog and social media posts that are engaging, informative, and grammatically correct. She enjoys drinking tea and playing the drums, but not at the same time.