‘Leaders are readers’ according to the pundits. But if reading provides great input to stimulate creativity, then writing is great output to promote change, and ‘Leaders should be writers.’ Today you’ll discover some great reasons to write and how to strengthen your leadership by making good use of what you write.
Aside from writing some words in sand that would soon have been obliterated by trampling feet, there is no record of Jesus writing anything at all. He fulfilled his ministry purpose through the spoken word, prophetic deeds, and the example of his life. So I am hesitant to say writing is essential to a leader’s success, but I will say it is a most helpful tool that ministry leaders today would do well to have in their toolboxes.
It’s a tool that has languished in my own toolbox for a few months now, and I’m glad to be putting it back into use with this post. Since January I’ve been fully occupied with a cross-Canada tour delivering seminars and visiting members. I love meeting so many interesting people and hearing what God is doing through their ministries. It encourages me in my ministry and keeps me grounded in the reality of the daily experiences of our member ministries. But with that season over, I gladly return to writing.
Writing is good for:
- Reflection on your leadership and ministry
- Developing clarity of thought
- Leveraging your leadership influence
Reflection should be a part of every Christian’s life, but those who put themselves in the place of Christian leadership have a greater need to reflect on their own leadership and the mission of their ministry.
Personal reflection is part of the contemplative stream of Christian spirituality, which is known for its focus on self-scrutiny, self-knowledge, and self-mastery. It is a key part of the discipleship process of transforming one’s mind to become more Christ-like.1 Consequently, what you write for personal reflection is usually very private, unless you have a small support group interested in your success (eg., a mentor, an accountability group, a peer group).
Journaling is the best-known writing style for daily reflection and it is widely used in secular and faith-based circles. A particularly good way for Christians to journal is to first do the prayer of examen and then write about what comes out of that. (The link will take you to a document that describes how to engage in this form of prayer.)
You can also kick off your journaling by asking yourself questions such as:
- Did I behave as a godly leader today?
- Are my personal preferences intruding too much into my leadership of others?
- What motivations drove me today?
These are tough and soul-searching questions to ask. Some days I cringe at my honest answers. Other days I feel very good about my answers. In either case, good follow-up questions are:
- What does God want me to learn about myself through this day?
- Based on what I’ve learned about myself, how does God want me to change to be more Christ-like in the future?
Another style of writing is the case study, the main benefit of which is that it forces you to see things more objectively because you do the case study on yourself. This is a most daring way to dispassionately evaluate your performance as a leader! My post on this topic gives step-by-step instructions and I can guarantee if you do it well you will gain significant insights from the exercise. The key is to pick a real situation that you have not yet resolved.
Puritans used meditative writing to uncover what God was doing in their lives and to meditate on Scripture and creation.2 The immediate application is to help with personal reflection, but it can also stimulate group discernment of God’s leading.
A leader could use meditative writing as preparation for a group discussion about applying Scripture and theology at the organizational level. Questions you could ask include:
- Where is God active in our ministry?
- What is God doing among our beneficiaries? Donors? Staff?
- Are we, as a Christian ministry, behaving as a godly organization?
- How should what we know of God and his mission shape our organization and its programs?
Writing is a great process for consolidating all the competing bits of information that a leader absorbs and interpreting them so that action can be taken. But there is a big difference between thinking about something and writing about something!
You may do better than I do, but when I think about things, my mind roves all over the place making connections, seeking out possibilities, and introducing completely random thoughts. Flashes of insights and fleeting impressions can easily leave me feeling that I have thought the subject through.
However I consistently find when I start to write my ideas down, the fact that I must choose specific words forces me to realize how vague my thoughts were. Which is the right word? What exactly did I mean? Which ideas are central and which are peripheral? What will my audience find persuasive? How should the ideas be introduced? What specific action do I want to see?
I’ve had lots of times when I thought I had great ideas, but discovered they weren’t so great after all when I wrote them out. Other times I’ve taken ideas that were interesting, and in writing them down discovered there was a much richer aspect to them than I at first thought. While crafting the written document I reflected much more deeply on the topic and discovered there was much more to it.
Writing hones your argument, refines the ideas, and crystallizes your thoughts into a format that others can absorb.
There are many ways for leaders to extend their influence, and writing is one of them. The written word can leverage your influence well beyond your sphere of personal contacts.
- You can extend your influence into the public sphere. When you think about all the factors (internal and external) related to mission success, why not blog about what you have learned and what you think about them? Use your writing to engage thought leaders relevant to your work and to introduce your staff and donors to their ideas. They may not be reading the thought leaders themselves, so you can interpret what they are saying for your audience. If you are an inner city mission, your opinions will probably move beyond your own programs to encompass public policy, public attitudes and so forth. As you write (and speak) on the topic, you will become known as a thought leader in your field.
- If you reflect on an issue related to your own leadership, you may find many applications for the output. Early in my time at CCCC I thought about what my attitude was towards competition between ministries during one of my annual spiritual retreats. I wrote it out and have used ideas from that paper as a post, in chapter one of the Stewardship Handbook vol 1, in our strategic review, and to guide my own subsequent thinking about our relations with other organizations. You may find you can use things you’ve written in your annual report, website, fundraising appeals or program design.
- A less obvious group that writing draws into your sphere of influence are people in the future. Writing preserves your voice beyond the present moment to next week, next year or next decade. The more you write, the more of your own resources you will have to draw on in the future. I’ve gone back to bits and pieces of my writings to help with organizational design and job descriptions, promotion of our corporate values, definition of our mission boundaries, and so on. Staff have used some phrases in marketing and promotion efforts. Hand-written notes preserved in files have given me insight into how directors and staff viewed things in the 1980s and helped me today with the strategic review.
I encourage you to pick something and write about it today. You might journal about your day, document what you think about an issue, or write something for publication. Whatever you do, you will be better off for having done it.