The Executive Writer

The Executive Writer by Edith Poor

The business world requires leaders who can synthesize and present intricate, subtle ideas simply. So for the record, here is what I believe: Writing is not the hard part; thinking is. Thinking is so hard that we probably invented writing to make thinking easier. The way an organization writes reveals much about how it thinks. The way you write reveals much about how you think. Improve the quality of the writing and inevitably you improve the quality of the thinking. Edith Poor helps business leaders think, write, and speak more clearly. She has over twenty years of experience helping executives master the printed and spoken word.

  • ISBN: 1-932727-05-1
  • Price: $19.95 (paper)

Read an Excerpt


This book is about writing in the corporate world. It's for managers and executives who find themselves spending too much time writing when they could be managing.

I don't propose to show you how to speed-write so you'll have time to get back to what really matters—managing. I do propose, however, to show you how to use writing to help you manage. Writing is part of your job, after all; but it's also a dimension of your management style, one that few managers fully exploit.

Writing is a management task and in some ways a management chore. But if that is the only way you think of writing, you will never be able to use it as a management tool. This book treats writing as a management tool and shows you how to use it.

The conventional wisdom about business writing can be summed up in four tips—tips you already know.

1. Get to the point.

2. Tell them what you're going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you just told them.

3. Use short sentences.

4. Avoid the passive voice.

This is the formula. The result? Simple documents, simply written. But my question is this: If you follow the formula, will you be an effective communicator?

Don't misunderstand me—clarity and brevity are important building blocks of effective communication; it's just that they're not ends in themselves. You don't write to be brief and clear; you write briefly and clearly to motivate your staff, get the promotion, convince senior management to approve the budget. There's another dimension to business writing, one that goes beyond the building blocks of brevity and clarity. And that is the management dimension.

In the corporate world, writing involves far more than getting your ideas down on paper. It involves negotiating the movement of those ideas through the organization so that people will act on them.

You need to think clearly about your document from the reader's perspective as well as your own. You need to assess—and exploit—the political climate in your organization or department. You need to structure your ideas so that they affect the reader as much as they've affected you.

In other words, you need to think about a lot more than the length of your sentences. You need a strategic focus, not just a tactical one.

The management dimension of writing has as much to do with the process of writing as with the product. Corporations are group settings in which multiple writers are often involved in the same task. To manage that task well, we must jettison what I call the "myth of authorship": that beguiling illusion that every writer can think, and achieve, in creative solitude. In business the reality is different. More often than not, writing is a clamorous, inefficient, highly political group effort for which recognition is rarely given. It's a skilled manager indeed who can guide the process- and develop the people at the same time.

The Executive Writer is the product of the more than twenty years I've spent as a communications consultant to senior management. My typical clients are recently promoted executives confronting a dizzying array of communications tasks for which they feel ill prepared. These tasks involve both writing and public speaking; it's rare that one doesn't lead naturally to the other. In corporate life, writing and speaking are two sides of the same managerial coin, and it makes sense to treat them that way.

 My clients have much in common. They are blessed with intelligence, tenacity, ambition, and a sense of irony. And they realize that their communications skills are getting in the way instead of helping to pave it.

I have written The Executive Writer with such people in mind: the newly promoted EVP of a computer technology firm, the chief financial officer of a large bank, the national marketing director of a manufacturing concern, the human resources director of a financial services firm. All of them see writing as the enemy, a sentence (no pun intended) they have to serve. They hire me to show them how to use writing as an enabling rather than a constraining force in their lives.

Few people expect me to show them how to like writing, but often this is precisely what happens. It happens because liking it comes with feeling that you've taken charge: you've harnessed the writing process to serve you, your goals, and your objectives. Inevitably, taking charge of writing means taking charge, period; it means managing. Managing yourself as thinker and doer, and managing the thinking and doing of others. For many that process is exhilarating.

Why? Because the ability to communicate is power itself. Indeed, the ability to communicate is management itself. Words motivate.  They demoralize. They incite, they placate, they appease. They wound. They heal. They matter.

I deplore the five-step method to thinking, to writing, to managing. (This book will not sit comfortably next to The One-Minute Anything.) But the business world requires that communicators synthesize and present intricate, subtle ideas simply. So for the record, here is what I believe:

Writing is not the hard part; thinking is. Thinking is so hard that we probably invented writing to make thinking easier.

The way an organization writes reveals much about how it thinks. The way you write reveals much about how you think. Improve the writing and inevitably you improve the quality of the thinking.

Writing is managing. Managing requires the ability to listen to those around you. Writing requires the ability to "listen" to the reader. How? You must learn to anticipate the reader's responses—document by document, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence—and plan for them. You must manage the reader's expectations.

The Executive Writer treats writing as a management tool. It analyzes the pressures of corporate life. It shows how to speak for your facts and your convictions with the authority and the coherence that your position requires. It illustrates how to develop your staff by showing them how to do what you do: communicate clearly.

Praise for The Executive Writer

An essential road map for making the transition from reader to writer, writer to editor, manager to mentor and leader. Read her book. Use her ideas. The results will speak for themselves.

Erik Anderson — President — WestRiver Capital

This is the book I recommend all the time. Edith Poor gives up a new and powerful way to connect thinking, communication, and leadership.

Cille Koch — Vice President — Chubb Group of Insurance Companies

The Executive Writer provides a compelling argument that effective writing isn't an art form but a critical leadership tool.

David F. Ferreira — Chief Administrative Officer — Abt Associates

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