Writing to Lead/Transcending Self-Censorship

As an internal communicator, it is true that I at my happiest when I am writing. But what’s less obvious to those who observe me is about when I am writing at my happiest.

That is when I am pushing the boundaries of self-censorship.

The fundamental question an internal communicator faces in front of the keyboard is “can I get this approved?”. At 16:30 on a Friday afternoon, that is a legitimate question, but seeking an affirmative response invariably leads to a descent into deep self-censorship.

Avoidance of confrontation with Above also fuels self-censorship. Such avoidance may seemingly contribute to enhanced job security, but at the price of diminished self respect, distinctiveness and organisational impact.

Self-censorship is necessary at times, particularly when relationships between communicators and their “line” on specific subjects have already been hammered out. But we do our organizations no favors when we draft for safety over impact when there is any possibility to get a subject to consider greater boldness.

At the same time, what we draft has to ring credibly from the mouths of those who speak those words or who approve their distribution on their behalf.

My own default position is clear. I start by asking myself: “What would I say if I were that person, in that situation, pursuing his or her own agenda and seeking maximum odds for success?”

I don’t get everything approved on that basis.

But I have never been yelled at, either for being too outrageous or too timid, in more than 20 years.

There is some navigating to do with this stance. It requires real knowledge of the involved content and where possible, empathy with the “speaker.”

Specifically, it requires a clear delineation between “what I would say in their position” and “what I think they would say if they had the words and confidence to say it”.

It requires confidence– in case one is asked to explain or encourage the use of bolder-than-expected wording.

And, it requires perspective – to always recognize that the subject or speaker has the final say.

But challenging the seductive safety of excessive self-censorship is where the communicator can move from being a stenographer to being a leader.

Moving leaders beyond the limits of their rhetorical skills, and challenging one’s own estimation of their courage, can move them and their organizations forward. Doing so repeatedly and successfully helps one move into a role as a leader oneself.

Draft with conviction. Accept correction with grace. Savor success, and seek opportunities to help your leaders to lead—and to lead through your words.

Mike Klein

Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms, a consultancy focused on internal, change and social communication. Mike has worked with organizations in the US and Europe for more than 20 years on pressing strategic communication challenges, and is a prolific writer and commentator on communication strategy topics. Mike is also the Founder of #WeLeadComms, an initiative to drive open recognition and in the communication profession. He holds an MBA from London Business School, and is a former US political consultant.




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