Benefits of Writing_3x5 Leadership

A number of other amateur writers and I have shared numerous thoughts on why we write, and moreover, have challenged our readers to do the same. From contributing to a community of practice, to writing as a means of learning, and forming your legacy, writing has its numerous benefits, both to your greater profession and to you personally.

I started my own writing and the 3×5 Leadership platform over 18 months ago under the premise of two ideas: 1) leader development occurs daily, not in a day, and 2) though my experiences are singular, the lessons from them certainly are not. With no real expectation that others would value, let alone read, my thoughts, I started to write in order to offer reflections from my experiences and recommended application to help others on their daily leader growth journey.

What Writing Has Done for Me

Realizing that my writing has helped others in their own leader development is an enormous joy for me. However, this summer, I’ve learned three new personal benefits that my writing offers me, which are necessary to my own leader development, and are relevant to you as well. Writing helps me:

  • To clarify, complete, and articulate my thinking from experiences and personal reflection
  • To archive my best ideas for future use or reference
  • To hold me accountable; this form of public writing forces me to ensure my daily behavior is aligned with everything I share

In short, I don’t just write to help others learn, though that is a major source of encouragement; I actually write for me. As I continuously “collect the dots” through personal experiences and my self-study, and then “connect those dots” through deliberate reflection, I turn to creating a blog post to complete and articulate my ideas. Further, I often find myself returning to my archives page to reference previous posts in order to apply those ideas now in my current work or to brush up on reminders for my daily behavior. Finally, what I’ve published serves as my measuring stick of leader authenticity; it forces me to remain true to what I write and allows others to hold me accountable if I am not acting in-line with what I’ve written.

How Writing Has Helped Others: An Example

As an example, my colleagues and I attended a professional development discussion a few weeks ago with a US Army brigade commander whose Soldiers were supporting our Cadet Summer Training at West Point. It was a great discussion centered on being a field grade officer in the Army, but it seemed to resonate most with one of my close friends. In less than 48 hours following that talk, my friend produced a fantastic personal reflection piece, where he related the discussion topics to his education in strategic thinking from our graduate school program last year and how he and others can apply this new knowledge. His piece, and the process of creating it, allowed my friend to clarify and complete his thoughts and also archive them for the future. Finally, I challenged him to consider publishing the piece (which I hope to share it on 3×5 Leadership soon) and doing so will provide him leadership accountability, ensuring his daily behaviors as a leader support what he has written and shared. It’s been a joy to see my friend form his ideas into complete, well-articulated thoughts that offer value to others in the US Army; it’s easy to see the learning and growing happening in him through this process.

Your Call to Action

Numerous others have done the same in sharing personal reflections from their experiences or learning. On this blog alone, “amateur writers” like me have shared their lessons in leader optimism and energy, followership, experience as a junior military officer, organizational trust, and counseling. The challenge isn’t necessarily to write in order to appear on a blog or other publication, but to materialize a system that forces you to take seemingly disconnected “dots” of learning and experience, connect them through reflection, and then package the new lesson in a clear and complete way to enable you and others to apply it in the future. Writing and publicly sharing my content has made me a better leader; this is the #1 behavior that contributes most to my own leader growth. Through writing for this blog, I think about what I’ve learned more often, I search more purposefully for lessons through my experiences and learning. I create clear ideas to apply and I remain accountable to them by publishing those lessons. I encourage you to start doing the same; every piece I write starts as a messy and unprofound mind map of ideas on a whiteboard. Lastly, if you feel that your thoughts can impact others, consider sharing them! Others become better through reading it and you are challenged to remain authentic to what you’ve learned and ultimately shared.

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  1. Short lesson on leader optimism… Late 1989, as a young frocked Navy LT (wearing the rank but not yet officially promoted) I took over as Executive Officer of an oceanographic survey unit embarked on a USNS ship, permanently deployed doing sea floor mapping in Indonesian waters. Small unit, about 75 Sailors total, an 04 CO, 6 officers and about the same number of Chiefs, with a comparably sized civilian Merchant Mariner crew led by a civilian Master.

    I was still very tightly wound having just escaped from the East Coast Surface Navy. There are three very different US Navies – East Coast, West Coast and WestPac, their respective attitude and nature then divide further based on the warfare areas. The only thing more anal than an East Coast SWO is a Nuke. I was pretty excited about transferring into a new community, Oceanography, and my new role – Executive Officer, second in command, being able to set the tone, helping lead an entire organization. Heady stuff for a second tour.

    Coming out my stateroom one morning I stub my toe on the knee knocker nearby (the lower lip on a watertight hatch) and curse softly under my breath on my way to breakfast. I didn’t think about it any more as the day progressed in a reasonably normal fashion, but I encountered very few of the crew in my wanderings, and those I saw were quieter than usual. At lunch I sit with a crusty Chief Warrant Officer 3 who owns the comms and survey electronics onboard and has been in the Navy for-freakin-ever, at least compared to my whopping 3-1/2 years at that point. He probably preferred the XO didn’t sit with him, even if his main source of pleasure is picking on Junior Officers.

    “Hey EMO, what’s with the crew, they seem on edge?” “Word has it you are in a foul mood, Sir” said with a mustached smirk over the top of the ever present nasty ceramic coffee cup black inside, white outside, standard issue for Chiefs and Warrants. “Dude, I am never in a foul mood!” “Did you just call me dude, XO? Petty Officer Smith saw you cursing and muttering in the passageway this morning, word spread, watch out for the XO.”

    Lightbulb moment right there.

    Anyway, moral of the story, leadership sets the tone. I think General Powell is credited with “attitude is a force multiplier.” Cheesy but true. Strapping on the pom-poms and saddle shoes is not it – cheerleader style rings hollow from the get go. However, if you as the leader bring the negativity, it is guaranteed 100% the crew will channel it. Work on being a silver-linings kind of person. Find the positive (tying it to the mission always works), get and keep folks focused on it, and lead by example.

  2. Josh, this is a great article. I can’t agree more in the power of connecting ideas and thoughts into a coherent piece that gives value and meaning to ourselves and those who read our work.

    I’ve begun writing professionally a bit as well, and it’s been a transformative process for myself, and I believe is value added to the community. It is awesome to see the debate and discussion of your own published work.

    I also read your article in the Company Leader about why you serve. It was an awesome way for me to reflect on my own service, I love what I do, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

    Thanks for your contribution to my leader development, it began in 2009 in Company E2 and continues today. Hope you are well!

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