Good Writing is Not a “Soft Skill”

I recently came across an interview with Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, who was asked what crucial workplace skill is becoming harder to find.

“One that we’re finding less and less inside the firm that I think is an important skill set … is an ability to write,” he said. “How you communicate with other people, how you interact with other people, how you express yourself will have a huge impact on your success.”

Bad writing can also affect results. In an article for the Daily Beast late last year, Josh Bernoff estimated the cost of bad business writing at $400 billion a year, based on his calculation of time wasted slogging through confusing emails, reports and other communications.

The value of good writing extends not just to the nuts and bolts of day-to-day internal communications. It also extends to ideas coming out of the C-suite.

While executives should be able to write clearly, their reputations and success often depends on their ability to influence, inspire and convey unique perspectives. That’s why executive communication is too important to leave to amateurs.

There are many ways to define great writing. But I think of it as three primary abilities:

  • First, great writers are able to take the ideas of others, apply their own critical thinking and build a narrative that connects with specific audiences in a way that moves and motivates.
  • Second, great writers understand how to capture the tone and personality of the leader. They understand how their leader thinks and can write in the executive’s voice.
  • Third, they are great technicians, writing clearly, grammatically and economically. They avoid big words and choose the small ones carefully, finding the precise word or phrase needed to express an important concept.

Great writing puts a leader in the best possible light with stakeholders. Bad writing, on the other hand, can erode a leader’s credibility. That, too, can affect both productivity and the bottom line.

All leaders have something to say or they wouldn’t be leaders. So if it’s worth saying well – and almost everything is – don’t wing it. Find a great writer.