The Power of Writing for Better Leadership

Hand-and-PenEarly in my career, I worked with a top-selling Account Manager who was seen by many as being a bit quirky. His name was Larry and he was very organized and obsessively habitual. You could set your clock based on the time he walked in the door in the morning. It was the same every day. He ate the same snack every day and washed his car every single day. He had one daily habit that I didn’t truly appreciate until much later in my career.

At the end of every day, he opened up a new Word document and typed out everything that had happened that day. He wrote about his customer calls, internal team meetings, wins, losses, challenges, and ideas. When he was finished, he printed the document, punched holes in it and inserted it into a 3-ring binder. Since he’d been with the company for 19 years, he had 19 years worth of those binders on a shelf behind his desk that documented every single day of his work life.

Many people saw this behavior as obsessive, time-wasting, and archaic, but today I see it as powerful. What Larry was doing wasn’t just detailed record-keeping. It was so much more.

Writing held Larry accountable. At the end of the day, if Larry had little to write, then he knew he didn’t work hard enough. His daily journals weren’t a work of fiction, so if there was no story to tell, then he hadn’t been in control of his day. He didn’t stare at the blank Word document and try to make things sound more important than they were. He just resolved to do better the next day. The amount of ink on the paper became a measure of performance as valuable as his daily sales.

Writing made Larry more productive. Larry had a photographic memory, so writing down details and reviewing them later helped Larry commit details to his long-term memory. And what he didn’t remember naturally, he was able to confirm by locating the daily journal entry. When someone forgot a customer name or what date a new service was offered, Larry had the answers. There were even times when a customer would call Larry because he remembered (and had documented) more than what they could remember about their own company.

Writing helped Larry reflect. While he didn’t dwell on his losses, he did spend time every day thinking about what he could have done differently. His daily journal gave him time and space to think deeply about what worked and what didn’t. In those minutes he spent writing, he was able to explore new ideas, evaluate his strategy, and solve problems without being distracted by phone calls, emails, and chatty coworkers. He focused on what he could learn from that one day.

Writing helped Larry find closure. Larry didn’t just save the Word document to a file on his computer when he finished typing. He hit the print button. Then he walked across the office to the printer, picked up the paper, slid it into the hole puncher, and then clipped it into a 3-ring binder. Larry wasn’t wasting paper by doing this, he was creating a routine that gave him mental and physical closure to the day. Clipping that paper into a binder was a way of literally closing the book on the day. He left the office every evening and went home to devote his attention completely to his family. It’s rare to find a Type A top-performing sales person with excellent work-life balance, but Larry did it all. I believe the binder had a lot to do with that.

We are so obsessed with record-keeping these days through email, databases, and spreadsheets that we’ve gotten away from the most powerful form of documentation—reflective writing. Before you leave the office today, take 10 minutes to write. You can write about your wins, your losses, your ideas, your challenges, or even your to-do list. Just write. Clear some mental space for yourself by putting it all down on paper, clip it in a binder, and walk away for the day.