On this President’s Day, I was thrilled to listen to a piece on Bloomberg radio about Abraham Lincoln and writing. Our new President, Barack Obama, is notably a fan of President Lincoln and even took the same train route to his recent momentous inauguration as Lincoln did. Last week, President Obama gave a speech specifically hailing President Lincoln’s sense of integrity and decision-making…especially in doing the right thing. On the radio piece this morning, I was surprised to hear that President Lincoln was an avid writer and not necessary because he loved to write, but because he found writing to be a deeply profound thinking tool.
In the leadership and management space, critical thinking is arguably one of the most arduous skills to teach. I personally have long held that writing is one of the more powerful tools to teach critical thinking. You see, letters make words and words make sentences and sentences joined together in some cogent manner create rational thought….and when you have to do this with all kinds of emotions and thoughts swirling through your head, writing can be invaluable. Writing is a formal language and like any language and your ability to articulate is critical in management and leadership roles.
Now the kind of writing I am talking about is not what most of us do – the daily emails occurring at rapid speeds with the only purpose to respond and clear up your inbox. Or the even-shorter BlackBerry response. No, I am talking about the kind of writing where some thought and meaning is inserted, where a semblance of who you are and what your values are emerge… blogs are a good example of it. Now I’ll admit that, at over 150 emails a day, most of them are deleted or I send a one to two sentence reply. But I do make it a point to make my responses cogent, thoughtful, and succinct. I read every response before I hit send and if there is a word or phrase I see that I can change to make my thoughts clearer, I will make it. I encourage you to try this and see how much better and more substantive your responses become…and more importantly, how such a minor improvement elicits a more positive response from the reader.
What is the connection between EQ and writing? EQ, your ability to connect emotionally with yourself and others to optimize high levels of collaboration, can be processed effectively through writing. Let’s say that you just had a challenging experience with a peer or a client. If there is no one around you that you trust to process the experience with, try writing it out with some structure. Try answering these questions with a sentence or two, in writing:
- Why did the meeting occur?
- Were the objectives clear?
- What could have been done better?
- What can be done to mitigate the risks of the challenge?
- What did I learn from this?
If you respond to these questions with one or two sentences, you will be amazed at how emotionally competent you become…you, in effect, are diluting the powerful negative emotions of the challenge with positive emotions of logic and action-taking. I encourage to you write something substantive each day – perhaps you own a daily blog just for yourself….like those journals/diaries we kept when we were kids. You will see results and improvement in critical thinking and higher EQ over the course of a relatively short period of time.