Joan Didion was a prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction. She wrote screen plays, magazine articles, and essays. In recognition of her work, she received honorary doctoral degrees from both Harvard and Yale, and was recognized with the National Medal of Arts at a ceremony at the White House.
As a journalist, she was one of the first to publish a mainstream news piece questioning the guilty verdicts of the Central Park Five. She concluded that the five found guilty of a horrific crime were themselves victims of a sociopolitical narrative with racial overtones that clouded the court’s judgement. It took years, but ultimately their sentences were vacated.
When the world was clamoring for a conviction, she was one of the first to stop and think clearly about what was happening. Where did that clarity come from? She later wrote this:
I don’t know what I think until I write it down. – Joan Didion Click To Tweet
We can apply this simple idea to much that we do as leaders.
The act of writing requires that we arrange our thoughts logically, and that we express them clearly and in a way that others can understand. Writing is discipline applied to an idea. In committing it to the written page or screen it gains form.
Whether we are trying to set goals with our team, build a positive culture within it, or coach and mentor one of our teammates, taking a moment to write out our ideas can help us think more clearly about them.
Through the effort of writing (and thus thinking), murky thoughts become clear concepts, vague ideas become actionable plans, and sometimes, as Joan Didion found, we may catch ourselves “just going along” instead of thinking for ourselves and leading the way.
Writing forces us to think more clearly. And the better we think, the more effectively we can lead.