Earlier this year my daughter was forlorn to miss school when they were teaching how to write essays.
As a writer, I thought to myself, "I can show her this!"
But instead, I encouraged her to advocate with her teacher to review the content she missed. When she came home from school she excitedly relayed the essay writing process she learned.
It starts with outlining the topic of each paragraph and the supporting idea. This is, of course the way I too learned how to write essays at her age. You probably learned this approach too.
As she described the process to me I couldn't help but laugh to myself. That is nothing like how I tend to write today.
I don't have an outline for each blog post I write, including the topic sentences and main points.
Instead, I start with an idea. And it is through writing that I figure out what I want to say. As I'm writing this, I don't even know how this blog post is going to develop or end. But it's a topic that feels juicy so I'm trusting that I'll arrive somewhere useful in time.
This notion is important because, having methods for gaining greater clarity of thinking is an essential leadership skill. Such clarity makes for more effective communication and improved decision making.
My own style of writing comes out of my journaling practice. I'll often start with some point of frustration or confusion or problem, then by writing I gain valuable insights, discernment and a resolution.
For me, writing is like chewing my food. It's an essential part of the digestive process that has a significant impact on my ability to absorb nutrients. When I write, I'm masticating my thoughts. Processing them so I can separate the fact from fiction. Internalizing the meaning of my experiences and perceptions. Slowing down so I get out of reactive, fear based cycles and into greater coherence.
The importance of shifting out of a reactive mode to one of greater coherence enables better decision making and more effective communication. It takes consistent effort to move out of a myopic point of view to a consider a more expansive perspective.
It's easy to become fixated on black or white thinking. To see things as clearly right or wrong. Good or bad. When in reality, the vast majority of circumstances are much more nuanced than that. A wholehearted leader is able to see the shades of grey and play in the sandbox of uncertainty that pervades our lives.
Writing not only helps me figure things out. It also enables me to make the invisible visible. It challenges me to put an intangible thought into words on the page. Seeing my thinking adds another dimension to my perceptions.
Writing does not have to be your mode of doing this work. There are other ways to process our thoughts, solve problems, get clarity and find the words to say to make the point we want. I have a client that does this work while bike commuting to her office. Another client enjoys baking bread to process things.
There are many ways to be present to and in motion with our thinking so we can not just figure things out but thrive.
Whatever it is, leaders need a way and a space to make sense of things. To problem solve. To get clarity. A process that gets them from point A to point Z when there's not already a path there. A method for taking a step back to see things from a greater vantage point so the path forward is more clear.
This need is further illustrated by the rise of AI (Artificial Intelligence) programs like Chat GPT making waves. There's fear and concern about such programs eliminating jobs or pedaling false information.
The thing that AI can't do is be discerning. AI can't find connections between seemingly disparate ideas. It can't read the expression on someone's face and know that an off-handed comment landed wrong. It can't empathize with the anticipation felt when someone is waiting for important news.
As with all technical advancements, it's our jobs as humans to learn how to utilize the good it can do and mitigate the risks. To be discerning. Self-aware. Intentional. Ethical. Boundaried.
To recognize that the tool might simplify our work but it doesn't eliminate the work. For example, it doesn't problem solve or make decisions or empathize or create art.
There are times where things are known but simply need to be expressed. In those instances, it makes sense to use the outline approach my daughter just learned to write. It's likely that AI might very well be a viable tool at those times as well.
Then there are times where the act of doing the work is how you figure things out.
A wise leader knows the difference.
It was Flannery O'Connor who once said, "I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I wrote." How do you know what you're thinking? AI certainly doesn't!