How to lead when you can only communicate online

A research-based approach to online writing for leaders

This article provides a research-based approach to how leaders can use writing techniques, such as summarizing, persuading and storytelling, to lead through writing, in a world where we don’t always see our employees face-to-face.

A quick google search on leadership behaviour reveals many products, services and advice tailored to leaders, on how to act and talk in order to inspire and influence. But what can leaders do when their communication is mediated by technology such as Skype, emails or Enterprise Social Networks?

New media technologies allow for modelling, in other words, we can use technology to emulate behaviours we would have in real life. One of them is authoring, described as “the act of generating content and putting it online for a broad audience”. (Richter and Wagner, 2014). Computer-mediated communication allows leaders to reach more people, thus broadening their influence and turn the traditional one-way communication, in engaging and online conversations. It is also important to note that employees prefer authentic texts authored by their leaders, as opposed to texts that were edited or written by someone else in the name of the leader (Richter and Wagner, 2014).

There are multiple literary techniques that leaders can use to assemble a text. As Jack Hart, former writing coach at the Oregonian says, a fundamental question to ask in the process of writing, is: “Just what sort of narrative are we talking about here, and what tools will I need to build it?” (Hart, 2012). Depending on the purpose of the communication/text, leaders can use different types of literary techniques to ensemble unique and authentic texts, to inform, motivate or engage:

Persuading techniques — can be used for motivating, persuading and motivating people, for example when assembling a text about disclosing a new direction for the company, a major change — when it is important to bring the employees on board with the message:

Summarizing techniques — these techniques can be used when assembling short updates about the company, projects, and/or changes within the organization, meeting minutes and other texts where brevity is important.

Storytelling techniques — can be used for engaging, amusing, and/or conveying difficult concepts and ideas — when it is important that employees remember. “Storytelling has such wide application because, at its root, it serves universal human needs. Story makes sense out of a confusing universe by showing us how one action leads to another” (Hart, 2011).

The realm of literary techniques that can be used for leadership communication is vast. They are even more important when it comes to digital communication for leadership.

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References

Ph.D. Fellow researching Digital Leadership. I write about my research, opinions, and personal development.

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