Write Like a Leader Part 1: Purpose Inspires Action
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
– George Bernard Shaw
What does it take to be a great leader? Perhaps it’s an uncanny ability to influence and motivate your peers, an unwavering bias for action, or top-notch analytical thinking skills. But if you have trouble translating these leadership skills into writing, your entire suite of competencies can be compromised.
Clear, effective writing is essential for leading high-performance teams—and for communicating strategically in general. In this series, we will help you hone your leadership writing skills to enhance your impact, improve your leadership brand, and drive action and results.
Failing to target readers is one of the most common mistakes in business writing, but it’s easily solvable with a simple shift in perspective. Before you write, start your process by using these four key strategies for being reader-centered.
1. Choose your delivery tactic
Writing is just one communication method of many. There are plenty of situations where an in-person conversation would be more strategic than an email. Ask yourself, “Is writing the best way to deliver my message?” and “Is now the right time to communicate this message?” to avoid any missteps. (If the answer to either of those questions is no, then you can stop reading here and instead prepare for your in-person or on-the-phone interaction.)
2. Define your purpose
If you aren’t sure why you’re writing to someone, they won’t know either. Is your purpose to persuade the CEO that you need an assistant? Is it to solve a problem with your computer software? Is it to motivate action or to praise a member of your team? If you are writing simply to “inform” your reader, you need to reassess your intention.
Your writing should have a strong statement of purpose that ultimately drives the action you want. In this phase, ask yourself, “What do I want my reader (or readers) to do?”
3. Analyze your audience
Conducting an audience analysis before you start writing will help you anticipate the needs of your reader. Once you understand their needs, you can include them in your message and avoid the dreaded, but frequently necessary, email back-and-forth that comes from unclear messages.
Ask yourself these questions:
- “Who exactly are my readers, and what are their roles?”
- “How much background, detail, or context do I need to provide?”
- “How will readers react to my message? What will be their main concerns?”
- “What’s in it for the readers?”
- “How will readers use this document?”
Now that you understand your audience’s needs, you’re better aligned to actually help them.
4. Put your bottom line on top
Remember, most of your readers are already drowning in information and will likely attempt to scan a message to determine whether it’s worth their immediate attention. Help them do this! Before you write, identify the key idea that you’d like to stick with your readers. Then, distill that information down into one or two sentences and make them the first lines in your email. In this phase, ask yourself “What is the most basic information that my reader needs to know—and why is it important for them to read this message and take action?”
Writing is like any project you are leading. You don’t just jump right in—you must develop a strategy and plan first. If you take a few minutes to target your readers, you will greatly increase your chances of achieving the response or action you desire.