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How to Use Writing to Amplify Your Leadership Impact

The case for writing more at work, and a smart guide to getting started

Julia Clavien
May 23 · 13 min read

Why Writing Gives You Bigger Impact

Writing forces greater precision

As an idea moves from talking to writing to coding, the precision level increases.

Verbally, we can easily gloss over edge cases, but when in the spec or code, these cases must be handled.

Writing is more permanent and is available exactly when needed

When it gets written down, it lasts — it’s more permanent. There are times when it’s powerful to create more enduring materials. Think of anything from a white paper, a product requirement document, a policy document, or even a simple FAQ or glossary. These permanent assets can be immensely powerful in a company. Creating more reliance on written assets rather than just the tribal knowledge passed around verbally in teams reinforces consistency.

Writing is more accountable

When it gets written down, there’s a higher degree of accountability to what was stated. One of the biggest advantages of putting things down in writing is the record created — it’s more tangible than talking.


How to Get Started with Business Writing

I know when I first started trying to create more tangible written outputs it was not only challenging, but a touch intimidating. If you feel similarly, the good news is you can start very small. Like the well-worn analogy of training your muscles in the gym, if you’re new to it, don’t grab the biggest barbell. Writing is no different.

When to choose writing

Writing is a higher latency way to communicate — it’s less immediate — so it’s not always appropriate and you’ll need to use your judgment in assessing the urgency of the communication. Check out Moss in the clip below for an extreme example of choosing written communication inappropriately.

Not an ideal time for writing ;)

1. Identify the opportunity to write

Be on the lookout for times to create a more precise and permanent asset—times where writing instead of talking could yield asymmetrical benefits and be a bigger overall return on investment (ROI) on your time. It’s likely to be when there’s not operational urgency, when deeper thinking is required, or when less of the personal touch is required.

2. Schedule time to write

Once you’ve identified what you want to write, it helps to carve out some specific focus time to work on it. I like to schedule an hour in my calendar at a time that I think will be able to think clearly. I like the mornings when the office (and my mind) is quieter.

3. Create the draft

Start small. Often the hardest step is the first — typing a title, filling one cell on the spreadsheet model, or drawing the first box on the diagram.

4. Edit

In reality, writing and editing aren’t always discrete steps; you might iterate. Sometimes when I’m editing my own work I need to go back and do a major rewrite — restructuring the whole thing. Sometimes I realize I need to change the message, which is frustrating. However, these are the times when it’s apparent how much writing aids critical thinking.

  1. Grammar: Similarly, poor grammar can distract. If good grammar isn’t one of your strengths, a tool like Hemingway might help.
  2. Clutter: Einstein said something like “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Cut the clutter—like wordiness—as much as you can.
  3. Title or subject line: This is nearly always more crucial than we realize. Make it descriptive, and also make it enticing if possible.
  4. Structure: The overall structure or flow is crucial for your audiences digestion. Try to lay out your work out in a logical and appealing way. Headings and subheadings help the reader navigate the content. Use bullets for listing items, or numbered lists for instructions or steps that should be done in a particular sequence.
  5. Design: Aesthetics do matter. A few nicely highlighted headings or cells can go a long way to getting your work it the attention it deserves.
  6. Feedback: If you’ve got a trusted colleague, you might want to ask them to give you some specific feedback, e.g. “would you please read this and let me know three areas in which I could improve it?”

5. Share

Get it out there as soon as possible.

6. Prepare for impact

Once you’ve shared what you’ve written, you should be prepared for the impact it generates. After all, that’s the point.


What To Write

Need inspiration? Here’s a selection of written documents that I’ve found to be powerful business assets. You might choose to start from scratch, or you might look at some of the examples and templates linked to below in order to jumpstart your efforts.

Operational writing

These are some simple small ways to start that can give you the fastest ROI.

  • Decision making: After a decision is made is a good time to do some writing. It might be as simple as a slack message or an email saying “Today we made the decision to start a project to move to ABC technology for X, Y and Z reasons.”

Tactical writing

Creating these kinds of written output has less immediate returns — it might take longer to get the ROI, but within weeks or months, you will see the rewards.

Business glossary examples
Business process examples
Employee on-boarding examples

Strategic writing

Creating this kind of written output has the slowest and hardest to quantify ROI, but also the biggest potential returns.

OKR template examples
  • White papers/blog posts: If you’re contemplating a white paper or similar — think e-books, blog posts, case studies and the like — you’re probably already quite advanced as a writer. However, don’t disregard the wealth of outlines and examples online for you to peruse to jumpstart your progress.
White paper examples

Appendix — Template Resources

While not an exhaustive list, here’s a bunch of template resources for popular business tools that can kickstart your writing.

Microsoft

Google

Atlassian

Miscellaneous

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Julia Clavien

Written by

Curious to a fault. Technology | Psychology | Philosophy. All opinion subject to change. ☺

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.