Write Like a Leader Part 2: Mastering Direct Sincerity
The only way around is through.
At Ariel, many of our clients approach us in the midst of major organizational change. Their companies are facing critical transitions and must turn to their leaders to inspire peak performance across the entire organization. One of the most important communication skills these leaders must master? Establishing trust by delivering a message that is both sincere and direct—a difficult combination to achieve.
Clear, effective writing is essential for leading high-performance teams—and for communicating strategically in general. In this series, we’re helping you hone your leadership writing skills to enhance your impact, improve your leadership brand, and drive action and results. Miss out on part one? Start here. Ready for more? Read on!
One quality all leaders should strive to establish through their writing is trustworthiness. Trusted leaders who demonstrate integrity inspire high-performing teams, while those lacking this trait can destroy their people’s morale and productivity. Considering the fact that 63% of employees consider their CEO “somewhat” or “not at all” credible, there is substantial room for improvement.
Here’s what to do and what not to do in your leadership writing to establish trust, gain your readers’ respect, and motivate your teams.
DO: Analyze your audience before you write
As we discussed in part one of this series, failing to target your readers is one of the most common mistakes in business writing. Think through how your audience will react to your message—especially if you’re dealing with a sensitive topic. Before you write, ask yourself:
- How much background do I need to provide for these readers? What questions will this topic bring up?
- How will my readers react to this message? What will be their main concerns?
- What do I want readers to do or feel after reading this message?
If your message doesn’t address your readers’ likely questions or provide enough background information to quell possible confusion or anxiety, your readers will lose trust in you. Show that you’ve considered your audience by clearly communicating your topic, openly addressing any likely concerns or questions, and offering next steps or solutions wherever necessary. Use your words to reassure, motivate, and inspire.
DON’T: Offer hollow cheer leading
Pretend you’re part of the sales team of an organization that’s just increased its sales goals dramatically. Which email would you rather receive from leadership?
“I know our sales goals have increased, but as always, we encourage you to reach for the stars! We know you can do it.”
“I know our sales goals have increased this year. Because of this, we’ll be re-evaluating personal goals, asking for your marketing campaign needs, and increasing individual check-ins with the Senior Vice President of Sales. We want to offer you more time to get advice, evaluate what’s working and what’s not, and develop a clear path forward. We’ll be working hand in hand with you to ensure success!”
The second message addresses the concern, offers evidence that leadership is taking action, and includes specifics so the reader knows what to expect next. Nothing kills motivation quite like a message requesting critical action with no clear path for follow-through. Knowledge is power, and it’s important to give your readers what they’ll need to know you’re in their corner and successfully carry out your request.
DO: Strongly consider the voice and tone of your writing
Business writing sends the wrong message when it comes across as formal, cold, and impersonal. Let go of the idea that your emails should include impressive vocabulary and long paragraphs describing how much you know about your topic. Instead, try writing like you would speak to a friend. It can also help to read your message aloud to ensure you captured your true voice.
DON’T: Avoid the truth or sugarcoat a difficult situation
Your reader can smell inauthenticity from a mile away, so don’t avoid difficult topics. An email reading “Our organization’s goals have changed, but leadership is working hard on them” will only raise questions: What goals have changed? What are the new goals? How does this affect me? What are we doing differently now? Instead, offer specifics and actionable steps for your reader—even if they’re not fun.
This is especially important in times of organizational change. Employees will notice any strategic differences within the organization—if you’re not transparent about what’s going on, your teams will know you’re being evasive (and essentially lying to them).
Leaders must step up to the plate to clearly communicate what needs to be said, both good and bad. By genuinely and appropriately telling (or writing) it like it is, you’ll earn your team’s trust and increase your chances of coming out stronger on the other side.
Want to dive deeper to learn how to master direct sincerity in your writing or develop other leadership writing skills? Download the Write Like a Leader eBook now. Be on the lookout for part three of the series!