The Expensive Missing Leadership Skill

This is more of a rant than an observation, but I’m seeing it more and more. This missing skill isn’t generation specific. It cuts across all generations and all industries. Leaders, your writing skills, or lack thereof, are one of the main reasons your teams are frustrated, confused, and disengaged, and why projects take longer and cost more than projected. Your team members don’t know what the heck you want them to do or what you’re trying to communicate. Your poor writing skills are costing your company money.

Your poor writing skills are one of the main reasons your teams are frustrated, confused, and disengaged.

The ability to write – coherently and logically – via emails, texts, letters, memoranda, reports, blogs, and other written communication vehicles is an incredibly important and too often overlooked leadership skill. A leader’s writing skills are often skipped over because we typically simply lump them under the broad leadership skill classification of “Communication.” But let’s be honest, when we think of leaders and communication, we’re focusing on a leader’s ability to communicate the vision, ideas, and direction orally — not in writing. We don’t think about the leader’s ability to write well. We’re simply expecting the leader to share the vision, the direction, and then have staff clean-up the message for the masses. Because many executives have staff who write reports, briefs, letters, and other documents on their behalf, these leaders’ writing skills only get exercised via texts and emails — and we all know the rules of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and idea progression don’t carry much weight there.

So what do your poor writing skills have to do with team frustration, confusion, and the lack of engagement? Plenty. Ask your team members how clearly your written communications with them are. Ask them how much time they typically spend each day — individually and collectively — trying to understand what you want them to do, clarify, provide, answer, or simply be aware of. Here’s a hint: If your team members start look nervous when you ask this, they’re spending a LOT of time trying to decipher your cryptic, non-sequential, misspelled, and poorly punctuated messages. Your poor writing skills waste their time. Your poor writing skills are causing them to have to stop working to instead try to decipher which message you’re referring to, what you’re trying to say, and what you want them to do. Then, they have to spend an inordinate amount of time strategically crafting their response to you with the hope it will make sense to you and that it will not result in yet another cryptic, disruptive message from you. In addition to frustrating and confusing your team, you’re causing many to simply stop trying. Your poor writing skills have shown your team members their best efforts in trying to decipher your written messages are pointless. From their perspective, if it’s something important enough, you’ll call them when you really need a response.     

Your poor writing skills are one of the main reasons projects take longer and cost more than projected.

Your ability to write – coherently and logically – when dealing with vendors and project partners helps your projects stay on-budget and on-schedule. Your strong writing skills clarify scope, expectations, deliverables, decision points, schedules, and changes in direction. However, your poor writing skills cost your company money. Unlike your staff, your vendors and project partners will charge for the repeated back and forth communications they need to gain clarity. They’ll charge for the change orders because information wasn’t documented correctly. They’ll charge for your apparent changes in scope, expectations, and deliverables. They’ll charge when you waste their time. They’ll charge for your poor writing skills.

Luckily, writing skills can be improved, but it takes work. In the meantime, your poor writing skills are costing your company money.

This article was previously published on Liz’s website, and is reprinted with permission.