Photo: Hannah Olinger
Books and articles on business leadership love to cover familiar ground: management, training, how to inspire your team and how to promote a winning office culture. Too often, though, the advice leaves out writing skills, a critical yet undervalued aspect of leadership development.
If a boss or manager writes well, it can instill confidence in the team, improve workflow and allow employees to better connect with the company’s mission and vision.
Here are 6 writing mistakes leaders often make. Correct the errors, and your reputation will improve.
1. You bury the lead
Don’t put the main point at the end of your email. It’s confusing to your team and also makes employees feel like you’re afraid to step forward with big decisions.
If one division within the company receives poor marks from clients – and you need to write the members of that division – be up front with the situation.
Early in the email:
I need to meet with all members of the External Comms team because we’ve received several complaints from clients at Acme Corporation and Tech Corporation.
If that same line appears at the end of the email, it feels as though you’re afraid to keep people in line.
2. You capitalize the wrong words
Sloppy grammar reflects on your management style – especially in front of people who know how to write properly.
Simple rule of thumb: capitalize proper nouns (ex: “Nike” but not “running shoes”) and leave job titles in lower case unless they precede someone’s name (ex: “Vice President Jane Doe” or “Jane Doe, vice president … ”)
Small editing details make a huge difference particularly when you write the same people day after day. Your mistakes will wear on them.
3. You write with huge paragraphs
People under you don’t want to read giant paragraphs that never seem to end. And if that’s the way you always operate, employees will begin to avoid your emails because they know what awaits them.
Two strategies to make your messages more readable:
- Break up big paragraph into smaller sections (1-3 sentences per section).
- Decide if every word, sentence or paragraph should remain; when in doubt, cut it out.
4. You don’t respond to people below you
Your employees need to answer your emails, but you have no obligation to respond to theirs?
Wrong. Lame. Foolish.
A great way to fail at leadership is to appear higher than thou. And don’t use the excuse that “you meant to respond but forgot.” You’re in charge and need to give employees the time of day.
A simple, “Thanks, I got your email” reply goes a long way. On one hand, you allow work to move forward because the response keeps everyone on the same page.
On the other, a response proves you value your employees’ time. The effort will also raise workplace morale.
5. You use passive voice way too much
“The year-end reviews have been completed by senior management, and meetings will be scheduled by me over the next week with each team member to discuss.”
Let’s locate the two subjects and flip the sentence into active voice.
“Senior management has completed the year-end reviews, and I will schedule meetings over the next week with each team member to discuss.”
Active voice feels more confident and authoritative. Plus, the active-voice version is 23 words; the passive sentence has 27 words.
More confident and more to the point. Active voice wins.
6. Your style makes you appear unenthused
If you write in short phrases or fragments, it can feel like you’re unimpressed.
Employee writes you: “I want to let you know that after six months, we found out we landed the Walters account. The Walters team wants a planning meeting on Monday so we can get started. Exciting stuff!”
And you respond with: “That’s good. Thanks for letting me know.”
Sorry, not good enough. Your employee is flying high after landing the new account (which took a full six months).
You should come back with: “Excellent news. I know your team worked hard to bring in the Walters account. Keep me posted on the planning meeting details.”
We can all sense tone in an email. Make sure your words strike the right one.
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Every day, the words you use with your team matter. A series of poorly written emails undermines your effectiveness.
Polished, professional writing commands respect and improves productivity.
With every new email, you have the chance to improve. How can you get better today?