3 Strategies to Become a Better Leader Through Writing

December 26, 2017

People are often surprised when they discover my big secret: I’m not a natural writer. Yes, I’m the CEO of a content marketing agency and a marketing speaker, but when it comes to putting pen to paper, I’m not the best. For a long time, I didn’t feel especially talented or see the benefits of writing for myself, so I avoided it.

Related: Why You Should Do the Things You’re Bad At, and Often

As my company grew, however, I started to realize how much my discomfort around writing was holding us back. It’s easy to say, “I’m too busy to write today,” and to keep kicking the can of personal and professional reflection down the road. There’s always something that demands immediate attention, and sitting down somewhere to reflect and write freely is never high on the list.

But by not generating thought leadership content, I was depriving myself and my company of a valuable tool. I didn’t need to become Hemingway. I just needed to schedule time to write about my personal growth and the industry trends around me in order to become a better person and leader.

Writing is more than an escape for teenagers with journals or artists who lock themselves away in cabins to focus on their craft—it’s an invaluable tool that helps leaders organize their thoughts and create genuine, human connections with their audiences. In a modern market where personalization, authenticity and shared values increasingly drive purchase decisions, written content from actual experts bridges the gap between companies and consumers.

Creating content about my own experiences and insights has helped me kill two birds with one stone. Not only am I able to challenge myself to grow as a leader, but I’m also able to give my company fuel for an effective content marketing program, providing valuable assets to our team in exchange for a bit of reflection. All leaders, especially those who don’t consider themselves natural writers, should learn from my early mistakes, get out of their own way and start developing content.

Transform thoughts into useful content.

As I mentioned, I’ve never been a particularly talented writer. I didn’t enjoy it or receive much praise for my language skills. That’s not to say I never had good ideas, helpful advice or a valuable perspective to share. Anyone who knows me knows I usually have plenty to say.

Instead of fleshing out my thoughts through writing, though, I either kept them bottled up or shared them with a few people personally when I had the chance—neither of which was a particularly effective or scalable way to share ideas or build connections with others.

Recognizing the need to create more content, both for my own growth and for the sake of my company, I began to write. I soon learned that the true value I provide comes more from my ideas and experiences than my copy editing skills, so I developed a “brain dump” strategy with my team. Now, I can put all my ideas, insights and experiences on paper without concern for proper style, grammar or structure inhibiting me.

Related: Use This Writing Exercise to Uncover Your Ideal Self

After some trial and error, I discovered what many professional writers already know: Streams of consciousness don’t just gush forth by themselves. They need a bit of prodding and an environment where they can flow. For me, that environment turned out to be on airplanes. Once I realized that travel made my brain dump sessions easier, my team helped me organize my writing around my flight schedule. Flying allows me to get away from the distractions of phone calls and Slack messages and Wi-Fi to reflect on industry trends, current events and my personal development.

When I started writing more, the pieces fell into place naturally. I began to see my role as a leader in a new light. Disjointed thoughts about our industry became coherent connections that helped us design smarter strategies. Above all, my team helped me form the raw material I created into a valuable tool to help our entire company grow.

Here’s how every leader can start writing.

With so many reasons to write, every leader should make time to do it. Even those who don’t consider themselves natural writers (like me) can create useful, illuminating content with a little time and effort. These strategies will help even the least experienced writers put their ideas to paper, reap the benefits of written content and become better leaders.

1. Find your place.

Just as airplanes became my place to write, every leader needs a place to think. Find somewhere you can set aside the daily stresses of running a company and write without distraction.

Consider how different environments facilitate different types of writing. If I want to write about an industry trend on my mind, the plane back from a conference is the perfect spot. If I want to write about something more personal—for instance, my family or my growth as a person—I prefer to write at home, usually in my backyard. Pick an environment conducive to the type of content you want to create, turn your phone on silent and let the words come naturally.

2. Throw out the rulebook.

Leaders like to be good at what we do, which can make writing a frustrating experience in the beginning. Those red squiggly lines under misspelled words discourage people with great ideas from writing them down.

Forget everything your English teacher told you, and write whatever you want, however you want to write it. Don’t even think about spelling, formatting, structure or titles—just keep moving forward. If you remember something you wrote earlier that you want to expand on, start writing about that again; you don’t need to go back and edit the document before you get in the flow of writing. Get all the information on the page first, then worry about the details later.

3. Trust yourself and your team.

None of us can do everything on our own. Handing off personal written content to team members can feel like opening your journal to strangers, but to take your content from personal musings to marketing gold, that’s exactly what you need to do.

If you aren’t a great writer, hire people who are. Work directly with your team and trust them to stay true to your original intent while polishing your work into something more reader-friendly. I provide my team with disorganized thoughts from my brain dumps, then rely on their expertise to shape those thoughts into a strong, cohesive piece. By surrounding yourself with people whose skills complement your own, you can turn your writing into a powerful tool for your brand.

Writing has no barrier to entry. All you need is a laptop and your thoughts.

Related: The Benefits of Handwriting

You might like

How to Get the Job When You Don’t Have the Degree to Back It Up

How to Get the Job When You Don’t Have the Degree to Back It Up

Don’t let your lack of a degree halt your professional progress—follow these tips to stand out from the crowd and show employers what you have to offer.

May 1, 2018
8 Tips to Improve Team Collaboration

8 Tips to Improve Team Collaboration

How to make your team work

April 23, 2018
7 Things Great Leaders Never Say

7 Things Great Leaders Never Say

As a leader, your words are powerful. Make sure you’re using them in the right way.

April 18, 2018