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3 Tips For Writing Like A Leader

It is no mystery that certain literary genres call for specific writing styles. If you are writing for a digital audience, keep it simple, short and snazzy.

Textbooks, written primarily for students, ought to cram as much information as possible, not try and trick the reader. Whether or not your paper is accepted into an academic journal has everything to do with how well the journal’s editors believe the essay matches the ethos of their journal.

Your success as a communicator hinges on how well your writing matches with the purpose of your genre. It is unlikely that even a talented textbook author would have much success at writing the latest TMZ dish. This is not because he or she is a bad writer per se, but the writing style she or he excels at is not one of “gotcha” entertainment. No one reading about some celebrity gossip wants to feel like they are reading a textbook.

Luckily, these kinds of professions have a system in place for those who pursue them to learn the respective writing styles. That is, journalists have editors and academics have peer reviews and publishers.

It’s easy to see how a genre’s writing style can be defined by the reader’s desire or needs as the audience expects the writing to match their interest. There are, of course, certain literary genres that run contrary to the above systems of formulaic writing, where the style is reliant on the personality of the author. That is, based on who the writer is, the reader should expect a certain kind of writing style.

That’s the advantage of fiction. Most modern novelists do not set out to mimic the writing styles of others. On the contrary, people become successful novelists by implementing their own style in the genre, and people take a liking to this. If you begin a Donna Tartt novel, it is not because you are hoping for some generic, taught, style of writing. You are hoping for her unique voice and mood that keeps you guessing until the final pages.

Another literary genre that matches this is that of the writing of leaders. People should expect a certain writing style from those in a position of leadership, and should they fall short, it is possible that their authority could be questioned.

Again, like that of novel writing, this is generally a self-taught, self-created genre. However, there are a few guiding tips that can point leaders in the right direction when writing that will polish their words into abiding by the genre of leadership.

You see it all the time in politics. Politicians are asked a question, and will respond in length about everything, so long as it isn’t the answer to the actual question. This is not a way to gain trust with their constituency.

When a leader is to write a memo, email or any other kind of business document, he or she should focus on transparency, or writing exactly what you are trying to say. Not only would a lack of transparency damper the trust between you and your team, but it also invites confusion.

For example, if you are trying to tell your team that they have been underachieving but do so in a way that attempts to not hurt any feelings, the important part of the message—that they have not hit their numbers—could be missed. Thus, although in the short run you may think avoiding the topic is beneficial, the damage this could cause in the long run is clear. Your team would think there is nothing wrong, continue with their same work ethic and attitude, and bring numbers down even further. So, it is imperative for a leader to be transparent in his or her writing.

Tip Number Two: Plain English

I do not mean that instead of writing in Spanish or French you should write in English. It is expected here that you are an English speaker and all that you write would be in English. What I do mean is that plain English should be the go-to for you. A thesaurus is certainly helpful, but more often than not it is clear when someone uses vocabulary that just does not fit.

You did not get in the position of leadership you are in by outsourcing intelligence, so to speak. You are where you are by your own accord. So skip the fancy jargon and the SAT flashcards and use the vocabulary you know and are comfortable with. This also relates to the first tip in that using plain English will increase the transparency of your writing.

Tip Number Three: Active vs Passive

This tip is a bit more technical than the previous two. Having said that, it may be good to have a quick refresher on the difference of the active versus the passive tense. It will then become more apparent why any leadership writing ought to be done in the active tense.

If you are at the zoo and see a monkey eating a banana, you can describe this event in the active or the passive tense. The active tense would be ‘the monkey is eating the banana.’ The passive tense would be ‘the banana is being eaten by the monkey.’ You then see the monkey climb a tree. To describe this actively would be ‘the monkey is climbing the tree.’ Passively would be ‘the tree is being climbed by the monkey.’

Although the passive voice may seem fancier, it is not as clear or strong as the active voice. To write in the active voice is to put the subject at the center of the sentence. On the other hand, to write in the passive voice is to have the object be at the center, and the one who is actually doing the action is seen as a contingency.

Evident by the name, by writing in the active tense, you are displaying action. On that same note, writing in a passive voice could possibly be a sign of weakness, or aloofness. A leader ought to take action and be strong, not be unattentive and disinterested.

A leader’s correspondence to his or her team (and beyond) should actively show they care about their readers.

By Teddy McDarrah, first published at https://www.forbes.com/sites/teddymcdarrah/2021/04/27/3-tips-for-writing-like-a-leader/?sh=599ab4264744 April 27, 2021