21 Reasons a Leader Should Write Blogs
July 22, 2019 | By Mathew Waller
It might seem like writing blogs is one of those tasks a leader should delegate. However, I publish around two blogs a month, some as LinkedIn articles and others as part of our Walton Insights series. Blogging is an essential part of my strategy for leading the Sam M. Walton College of Business, and I believe it is a useful tool any leader can use.
Here are 21 Reasons:
Set the Direction For the Organization
Setting the direction of an organization is a central activity for every leader, but keep in mind that it is a collaborative process. No leader has enough knowledge, experience, creativity or intelligence to set the direction unilaterally. The salient direction that comes from the organizational leadership team can be communicated outward through a blog, allowing the leader to define or clarify any or all aspects of the direction.
Gain Alignment of the Organization
Effective leaders can gain alignment by setting the direction transparently and inclusively. Encouraging and acting on input for blogs I am writing, and feedback on the ones I have published, helps create a high level of procedural justice. In organizational dynamics, the relevant definition of procedural justice is a process that gives people a fair voice in the decisions that lead to outcomes. Blogs help foster not only an understanding of the organizational direction but also build a commitment to it by giving people that kind of voice. Public blogs allow other constituents, including suppliers and customers, to contribute to the discussion about the direction of an organization, resulting in broader alignment. More blogs also result in more clarity, making alignment easier for those who buy in.
Effective leaders motivate people to move the organization in the direction that has been set. Blogs are a great way to motivate, for instance, by recognizing people for contributing to the forward progress. These stories encourage such contributions and inspire others to develop similar ways of contributing to the progress creatively. Furthermore, they can provide an impetus for productive competition for such contributions.
Visioning, the nuclear capability of a leader, is an active process, not a one-time event. Many organizations have a vision statement. They also may have examples of how to manifest the vision and strategic initiatives for seeing the vision come to reality. However, a leader needs to regularly and consistently cast that vision.
Let me give you an example. Our vision in the Walton College has two primary components: thought leadership and serving as catalysts for transforming lives. We accomplish both through our teaching, research and service. Casting this vision means throwing it out there for everyone who contributes to it or who wants to be a part of it. Blogs allow me to throw the vision to people in writing and with many different perspectives. Vision is about seeing, and seeing the vision from different perspectives provides a richer understanding of what it means and the impact it can have. Blogs are a simple and practical way to cast vision.
Helps Me Invent
An organization’s vision has meaning from the outset, but that meaning should become more evident and more vibrant over time. Writing blogs helps me invent meaning that’s consistent with the vision in a way that makes the vision more substantive, intense, resonant and actionable.
Relate to People
Effective leaders are good at relating to people in the organization. When people can identify with blogs I have written about someone or a particular topic, it helps them identify with me and shows them that I identify with them. They see that I can relate to and in many cases empathize with their challenges and experiences, and that helps build trust and foster communication and commitment.
Sensemaking is a salient leadership capability because it is the ability to explain situations, trends and circumstances in a way that helps people identify with the organization and consistently act with the direction of the organization. Blogging allows me to explain what is going on around people in our organization in a way that helps them understand what it means for us and how we should respond. A written narrative serves as a translation of events for constituents inside and outside of the organization.
Create New Ways to Add Value
Successful organizations continually look for ways to add more value to customers. Writing helps me think, connect various disparate concepts and invent new ways to add value to my constituents.
Sometimes I will have a vague idea about how I can add value to a subset of my constituents, so I will start writing about it. In that process, I begin to see where my idea is half baked, does not add value or is impractical. The writing process forces me to think through the details and invent solutions to obstacles to implementing the idea. Many of these blogs never see the light of day, but others become useful even if they are not posted publicly. In some cases, for instance, I share them with my leadership team or with a specific constituent group, such as one of my advisory boards. Regardless, publishing them forces me to think more rigorously and thoroughly than I might if I were only writing to my executive committee, for example.
When I decide an idea is worth publishing, I get input from writers, editors, colleagues and/or friends. This collaboration helps me find holes in my logic and sometimes leads to entirely new and better ideas.
My commitment to regularly writing blogs that would help constituents – students, faculty, staff, other administrators, alumni and benefactors – requires an entrepreneurial mindset. It forces me to look for problems or challenges others are facing and to come up with ways to solve their problems. This adds value.
Organizations are works in progress, which means they never stay precisely the same for very long. Leaders need to pivot from time to time and to various degrees to make improvements, whether it’s to new initiatives or existing programs, products and services. I’ve found that writing blogs about our pivots helps me think through questions, concerns and additional ideas while publishing those blogs draws feedback, both positive and negative, that helps shape our direction.
I want a productive feedback workplace. Encouraging and responding to internal and external feedback to my blogs promotes that aspect of our culture. I sometimes even solicit feedback from specific groups or individuals by emailing them blogs and asking for their thoughts. I always read email feedback about my blogs, and, in my opinion, constructive criticism is like gold. Sometimes it may require a phone call or a meeting, but it’s worth whatever extra effort it creates because we can more quickly make changes for improvement.
Share Inspirational Stories
The inspirational stories of students, alumni, faculty and staff provide encouragement, motivation, vision and enthusiasm for those I am writing about and for those who identify with the stories. Sharing appropriate stories creates a drive that helps gain alignment and move the organization in the strategic direction that has been set. I often start by asking where we want to go and who are the people who have gone there? These are the people to write about.
Define Mutually Beneficial Arrangements
The benefits that come from partnerships and collaborations aren’t always clear to people who are not involved in creating or maintaining them, and that can lead them to question the wisdom of those relationships. Blogs help leaders explain why specific arrangements are mutually beneficial. That’s important for maintaining alignment internally, but sharing the benefits publicly also can help people in the other entity understand the collaboration. Here is an example of one of our collaborations with a single company, and here is one with several companies.
Scale the Business
A new product or service needs the right people, business processes and capital. Some people, however, do not care to get involved in scaling. Publishing a blog that explains what is going on and what is needed for growth can help identify the people who will champion the initiative and get them involved, making the scaling more effective.
Blogging also forces you to carefully think through new business processes that often are needed when scaling, and it exposes others to the potential needs of the scaling organization. In some sense, it becomes a way to crowdsource ideas for processes or components of processes that will facilitate scaling. Finally, publicizing the product or service that is scaling can draw in those who have a desire to see it succeed, some of whom may have a desire to help with capital or other resources.
Provide Joy From Recognizing People
Appreciating and honoring people for their achievements is magnified when it is published as a public blog. However, recognizing the achievements of people has an added benefit for the leader: it is joyful and fulfilling.
Effective leaders take pleasure in seeing others achieve their goals and succeed in their endeavors, so the process of writing it as a blog allows you to reflect on it and cherish it. It also helps you to remember details, so you can mention them when you see them in person. This will motivate people to achieve even more. And when people know you are aware of their achievements and that you take pleasure in their achievements, it enhances your relationship with them. Relating, as I mentioned earlier, is a critical capability for a leader.
It’s not uncommon for someone new to leadership to miss out on the joy that comes from celebrating the success of others. But cultivating this practice has caused me to become more empathetic, and the more I’ve worked on it, the more it has become a natural and valued part of my leadership. Empathetic leadership styles are often valued and effective, and many people appreciate the recognition.
Create an Essential Link in the Feedback Loop
I mentioned earlier that feedback from blogs could help you pivot as a leader, but it’s essential to understand more about the value of feedback and some of the nuances as to why and how blogs can enhance the feedback loop.
Again, constructive feedback is like gold. It helps you understand the problems your customers or constituents are having with your products or services, and it helps you identify potential solutions to these problems. So blogging can become a component of a problem-solving process. All of this can lead to higher market share, new markets, and/or higher profitability. In my opinion, non-coercive profitability is one of the best measures of the unique value that is being delivered.
Now, here is the nuance regarding the vital link in the feedback loop. The feedback you get on a blog often is equivocal or unclear. You can use follow-up blogs after feedback has been received and incorporated to explain in detail how the feedback was incorporated. The blog doesn’t have to be explicitly about the incorporation of the feedback to make the point. It could merely be about the new or improved product or service.
Emphasize Parts of a Podcast
I also use podcasts as a tool for leading, so I sometimes use the podcast transcript as a guide for a blog. I don’t use them verbatim, of course, but they give me great ideas for accentuating or highlighting aspects of content covered in the podcast. Listeners to a podcast may not understand various subtleties of the conversation, so writing the blog allows me to underscore and resolve specific pieces. Blogs based on podcasts also create a secure link for would-be listeners to find the podcast.
Create and Explain an Infographics Design
Infographics are a valuable tool for at least two reasons. One, they help people understand a concept without having to read a lengthy explanation. And, two, they aid in the retention of the information.
After I write a blog, I think about whether or not an infographic might help. If so, I work with a graphic designer to create the visual. Sometimes the infographic is created first, and the blog explains or introduces that content. I once used an infographic to share information that came from four different articles I had read. I wanted people in our organization to understand key points, but this way they didn’t have to read all four articles.
Highlight Unique and Noteworthy Aspects of the Organization
Organizations in the same market space often seem very similar to the outside when, in fact, they are quite different on the inside. The responsibility for making the organization’s unique and desirable aspects known more broadly cannot be relegated entirely to the marketing function of the organization but should be enhanced by the leader of the organization.
Furthermore, it is essential for the leader to have these unique and valuable characteristics in front of mind and have the ability to articulate them clearly. Simply reading what others have written or hearing others explain them isn’t enough. The hard work of writing about them helps me understand them better, remember them longer and articulate them more clearly.
Communicate with Specific People
A blog typically is available for anyone in the world to read, but I sometimes have a particular persona or psychographic segmentation that I’m targeting. Although Walton Insights and LinkedIn are where I post most of my blogs, I target other specific groups by promoting them through LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, targeted email lists, podcasts, Google Ads and on other websites.
If I’m targeting a specific persona, you might wonder why I wouldn’t just email it to that group. In some cases, the public aspect of it increases the joy and motivation of the target group and it also may allow me to reach those on the edge of the persona. In other words, there is a marketing purpose in those situations. There may be a persona that is participating in some program, and by writing a blog, I can celebrate this persona’s participation while at the same time encouraging those on edge to participate, as well.
Reinforce Organizational Culture
The values held by the people in an organization are a vital component of its culture. These organizational values affect how decisions are evaluated and considered, how actions are taken, and even how people communicate with one another. All of these factors shape the culture of the organization.
This is one of the most important strategic issues to consider and address when forming an organization because of its far-reaching and long-lasting effects. And in an existing organization, established values must be carefully maintained and encouraged. Blogs are a useful tool in this regard. Putting in the time and effort to write blogs is a clear signal that the ideals, behaviors, attitudes and conduct reflected in the blogs are esteemed. It has been said that “actions speak louder than words.” Writing a blog is a way of creating action with words.
Provide Thought Leadership Marketing
Thoughts are ideas, concepts, perceptions and views. So thought leadership involves setting the direction of ideas, concepts, perceptions, and views, getting people on the same page, and motivating them through these ideas and concepts. Marketing has to do with delivering value to constituents and customers. So the idea of thought leadership marketing combines these ideas and can be a valuable tool that can be implemented in part through blogs by the organization’s leader.
Can Explain and Reinforce the Organizational Story
An organizational narrative always exists, but putting it on paper is a way to improve its accuracy and reinforce the direction and values of the organization. A narrative chronicles the history of the organization provides an account of its current state and presents a natural and logical vision of its future.
Soon after I took my current leadership position, I had my leadership teamwork meet with me to develop our organizational narrative. We have revisited and revised it each year. In my third year, I sent it to all of our employees for input. Finally, I published it as a blog – what I refer to as the canonical form of the organizational narrative. Every blog can reinforce and elucidate the official organizational narrative.
These 21 reasons that I regularly write blogs as a part of my approach to leadership fits with my leadership framework, which I explained in this LinkedIn article. That framework is based on the work of John Kotter (see his 2001 article in Harvard Business Review), and, the work of Deborah Ancona, Thomas W. Malone, Wanda J. Orlikowski, and Peter M. Senge (see their 2007 article in Harvard Business Review). Kotter discusses what leaders do, while Ancona et al. discuss how leaders do it. I combined these two approaches and routinely applied my framework. This framework includes setting direction, gaining alignment, providing motivation, sensemaking, relating, visioning, and inventing. If you skim back through the above points, you will see that all seven of these are addressed in this blog. You will notice that there are more than seven reasons I write blogs. Part of that is because the LinkedIn article only explains a part of my framework. In addition to that framework, I also try to maintain an entrepreneurial mindset as I lead. That is why you see reasons above about feedback, pivoting, scaling, et cetera. I'm convinced that writing blogs are a powerful and useful leadership tool.