Why Everyone In Business Needs To Perfect This One Skill in 2020
I love those New Year lists of how to get ahead in the coming 12 months. You know, the endlessly repetitive, vague and obvious nuggets of so-called wisdom. They remind me of my formidable grandmother, Booba as she was known by everyone, and among the wisest people I’ve ever known.
The nuggets of wisdom she endlessly repeated at the Friday night dinner table seemed mere commonsense when I was young but are personally inspirational today. ‘You get nothing for nothing’ is better than most management guru guides, as is ‘If you don’t ask you don’t get.’ (Although the latter was about second portions of roast chicken.)
But she was wrong about one thing. ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ Sorry Booba, but I’m living proof you can. A full-time journalist for 23 years, I started to reinvent myself post-redundancy and, thanks to the encouragement of a select group of mentors, now find myself a media trainer, marketer, speechwriter, CEO adviser, broadcaster, digital consultant and small business owner, as well as journalist.
That’s not a brag. It’s an admission that middle age should mean expanding one’s horizons and stepping outside of comfort zones in order to build on your established skillset, thus avoiding career calcification.
Booba would have joined me in grumpily dismissing the FT’s latest ‘Essential skills to succeed in 2020’. Among the publisher’s piercing strategic insights for global business leaders are: be flexible, be creative, use technology and listen to other people. Er, duh.
However, there is one glaring omission from all the work-better lists I’ve so far seen. If you really want to be a successful leader, learn how to write better.
Obviously I’m biased but I’m also right. The skills of a wordsmith are more valuable in 2020 than ever – and yet, in my experience, too few in business are equipped to express themselves in such a manner.
They want to write, know that they must, wish that they had more time, understand its potential for their careers and the success of their companies but they lack the confidence to make their words matter. To tell stories with purpose, clarity, meaning and relevance.
From a simple email, tweet or text, to a complex strategy document. From an internal motivator to an external piece of thought leadership. The ability to write is, in my opinion, the most under-rated skill of our era.
An era in which – haven’t you not noticed? – we are constantly writing, supplied as we are with more channels than ever on which to do so and with more devices with which to do so. And if, instead, we’re doing rather than writing, we normally end up writing about it on social media as soon as we’ve done it.
Obviously, we do all possess the skills to write but it’s that above phrase I’m most referring to – writing with purpose, clarity, meaning and relevance. Four words that should guide everything you do in 2020. Whether a youthful or ageing dog, it’s a new trick you really should learn.
In my experience, people can write but the pressures of time and a reluctance to experiment with ideas that haven’t already been written about (that’s you, FT people), combine to make them feel less confident about their innate storytelling abilities. Plus, they’re often still writing as if in higher education or following some bland business-speak manual, full of terrible cliches.
Strip away all the fancy titles and salaries you either have or desire, and it’s only words that really matter. The more elegant they are crafted and more powerfully they resonate, the more likely that your 2020 will be an inspirational one.
In business, if you can’t convince, persuade, cajole and lead people through your writing, you won’t succeed.
And if you’re struggling, we’ll I’m really happy to help. Or, as Booba used to say: ‘Don’t be such a schnook, just ask me.’