Effective Leadership (strategy, praise, admitting mistakes, etc.) is done verbally; Transacting/Formalizing is done via written communication.

The first email account I had was in college and the first text message I sent was at the age of 27 – in order to get a first date with Kristen (my bride).   For this reason and regarding leadership development, I believe I had an advantage over the folks that are in their 20’s today;  mainly because verbal communication was the primary option back then.   I only had to learn how to text (on my Nextel “beep beep” phone – note that the first iPhone was 2007) because Kristen would not answer my calls or respond to voicemail.  Comparing my experience with the younger generation who has had email and text messaging since they can remember, it has likely made leadership an even tougher endeavor for them given that face to face and verbal interactions are key to effective leadership.

I was listening to a TED talk last week and the presenter stated that the #1 benefit from a training program they delivered to their up and coming leaders was focused on communicating effectively.   It made me remember the most practical and highest impact course I had to take a long time ago when going through an MBA program, which was “Effective Communication in Business”.   I distinctly remember an exercise where they had us go through the archive of our business emails and pull the three worse examples of communication and then present them to the class.  They weren’t just teaching us how to write, the medium we should use, or self-awareness in regards to the perception others have due to our actions; they were teaching us leadership.

Regardless of what/who we are trying to lead, large advancements in what we are trying to achieve only happen with a more intimate form of communication.   The quicker/easier/less stressful way to communicate is to text/email/send a letter, etc., which is also why it is typically the wrong way to handle more strategic matters.   Written communication is still an important step, but only as a follow-up to formalize and/or confirm what was discussed.

Some examples (based on my opinion only) of when to use certain channels:

Verbal/In Person Communication Written Communication
Strategic planning Meeting notes
Consulting with customers/team Conveying supporting information
Recognition for large achievements Confirmation of understanding
Reflection on and learning from mistakes Formalizing next steps
Apologizing Reporting/inspecting what is expected
Training/mentoring Conveying general information
ANY sensitive matters Business transactions


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