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.

  • Dynamic words will create a sense of urgency, such as rapidly, dynamic, accelerating, explosive, boom, movement, action, progress.
  • Glossy expressions and clichés can be used to put some aspects in the light and other concepts (for which no glossiness will be used) in the shadow. Example: “first-of-its-kind”, “state-of-the-art”, “breakthrough”, “one-of-a-kind”.
  • Multiplicity — bringing in multiple views (research, influencers, journals) can convince your reader of the validity of your sayings. “Research shows that a success factor for digital leadership is transparency. We must therefor be transparent in our work
  • Including the reader: “as our level of acquaintance with the reader rises, so our ability to write something highly personalized — and persuasive — increases” (Camp, 2007). For example, you can do this by using pronouns to suggest “this is about us”, or refer to events or actions you shared together in a different context
  • Being personal — Camp (2007) thinks it is more persuasive to be personal: this can be achieved by using pronouns in the 1stperson (I, my, mine), sharing your emotions, feelings, views, or opinions.
  • Bullet points — “important points are often described as bullet points — presumably emphasising the notion of going straight to the heart of the matter” (Bloomfield & Vurdubakis, 1994).
  • Re-read and remove words: A sentence should not contain unnecessary words and a paragraph should not contain unnecessary sentences. Interrogate every word in a sentence for its meaning and utility to your reader.
  • Replace vague words with powerful, specific words. For example, replace adjectives with numbers: “Our company has a lot of experience in….” with “Our company has 50 years’ experience in…”.
  • Combine sentences: Re-read and pay attention to whether some sentences are unnecessary and the information they convey can be incorporated in another sentence.
  • Metaphors and figures of speech appeal to the reader’s imagination and are an essential part of Storytelling. Examples: “Our company is like an oak tree — No matter the storm, it will keep standing “.
  • Anecdotes are short stories that can be used to capture your audience, or to draw a parallel to a more difficult concept. It is even more powerful when you use examples from your real life.
  • Hyperboles are exaggerated claims that can be used to emphasise arguments. Example: “Our CEO read a million papers about innovation and concluded that…”.
  • Juxta positioning of time: using past, present and future alternatively — Example: “Our journey started in 2010, today we are challenged by many technologies, and by 2020 we want to be the best in our industry.
  1. Camp, Lindsay (2007). Can I Change Your Mind? The Craft and Art of Persuasive Writing. AC Black, London.
  2. Hart, Jack. (2012). Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction. University of Chicago Press, Chicago; London.
  3. Richter, A., & Wagner, D. (2014). Leadership 2.0: Engaging and Supporting Leaders in the Transition Towards a Networked Organisation. Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences,7.

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