Unfortunately, many of us are trained to write academically … and that doesn’t serve us well as thought leaders.
The worst offenders tend to be lawyers (and as an ex-lawyer I myself have been guilty as charged).
I once was party to an MOU (memorandum of understanding, kind of like a Clayton’s contract, the contract you have when you’re not having a contract) that had this cracker of a line in it:
"It is mutually agreed upon and understood by and among the Partners of this Memorandum that… "
Mutually agreed? Can one unilaterally agree to something? And understood? Surely it’s safe to say if we agree to it we understand it. And “by and among”? Who says that? And most of all if I sign the MOU I’m pretty sure that implies I agree to it.
So awfully written and completely redundant.
That’s all very nice Pete, I hear you say, but what does that have to do with me?
I think to be a thought leader you have to speak and write. You have to do other things too, but if you are going to communicate your ideas and make money doing so, speaking and writing is the price of entry.
Business writing is a much better model than academic writing. Back in the day when I started working at Accenture (or Andersen Consulting as it was then) they sent me on a business writing course. It was profound for me. They said put your conclusions at the start, not the end (i.e. your executive summary should let people know whether to read the whole report or not). They said less words is better than more words (heresy if you’re trying to complete a 50,000 thesis).
The thing that struck me most was about sentence length. They said the average sentence in an academic paper was 24 words. However, in a business report we should aim for an average of 14 words or less.
As a thought leader when you’re writing books, whitepapers, emails, and even blogs, your job is to communicate an idea as simply as possible. Not to use the English language as impressively as you can.