Writing: An Underrated Superpower

Updated: Nov 13

What are the most essential skills for effective leadership?


Build relationships?

Motivate followers?

Solve problems?

Certainly, are all great examples.


However, there is another, less-heralded leadership skill experiencing a great renaissance:

Written communication.

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Good writing is good thinking. When people compose ideas in complete sentences it forces a deeper clarity of thinking. And when sentences form full passages, written language becomes a powerful tool for uniting people, reinforcing cultural norms, and effecting lasting change.


Despite pundits predicting the “end of literacy” and the “death of the printed word," written language has reached unprecedented levels.


Gone are the days when pen and paper are used to compose love letters to long-distance sweethearts. Instead, the average American adult spends 30 minutes on Facebook, 40 minutes texting, and over five hours on email each day. We email, text, tweet, message, blog, comment, and otherwise hurl words at each other all day long.


Just because written communication might be less formal than it once was does not mean it is less important. One could argue a leader's ability to effectively communicate in written form is more important than ever.


Why?


Because in today's world, a school's image, reputation, and credibility depend on messaging.


Gone are the days when information is only shared with faculty. Communities demand school news is shared in a timely and transparent manner, meaning school leaders are often called upon to produce high-quality written communication at a moment's notice.


Furthermore, as school leaders are given more responsibilities and less resources, they must look for opportunities to leverage time. Productive leaders realize effective written communication answers questions, addresses concerns, and provides direction - thus eliminating unnecessary conversations and time-wasting emails.


Finally, we live in a time where there is a general lack of trust in leadership. School leaders must look for every opportunity to be seen as competent and trustworthy. Whereas poor written communication casts doubt in leaders' ability to do their job effectively, effective writing earns leaders much-needed credibility and respect.


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So what can be done to improve writing? Here are a few ideas:

Less is More: George Orwell writes, "Never use a long word where a short one will do." Great writers take complex ideas and break them down into simple, easy to read sentences. The key to effective writing is to using short sentences and everyday words to communicate only the most-necessary information.


Audience Matters: Many leaders use complex educational jargon when writing for the general community. Whether they wrongly assume people understand - or they are just trying to look smart - leaders must consider the audience. Is the memo going to multiple audiences? Always default the lowest level of understanding.

Use Online Tools: Many leaders have begun using online tools to improve writing skills. Sites such as Hemingway, Grammarly, and ProWritingAid do a nice job assisting writers. Looking for an underrated website? PowerThesaurus is a wonderful page for writers struggling to find the perfect word to use.

Edit: One mistake leaders make is to rush the editing process. Many administrators compose an email and immediately send it off with little discern. Consider double-checking written material before pressing send. The “undo send” feature in most email programs is a nice trick for catching last-second mistakes.

Read: Reading exposes us to other styles, other voices, and other forms of writing. More importantly, reading shows us writing that's better than our own. Leaders who become regular readers are not only lifelong learners, they also discover writing strategies that strengthen their own writing.

Practice: Practice makes perfect. The best way to improve writing is to write. Many leaders discover their skills improve dramatically upon writing a thesis or dissertation. Not taking graduate courses any time soon? Start journaling. Taking ten minutes a day to write about topics that matter enhances writing in all areas.

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People assume formal writing skills are no longer needed in a day when social media and digital communication are increasingly widespread.

This notion is terribly misguided.

Writing skills are more valuable than ever.

Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Jared Smith LLC.  Specializing in Leadership, Education, and Personal Growth.