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The Power of Writing It Down

Published August 15, 2013

Over the years that I have been a leader there has been one thing that has helped me be successful more than anything else.
Many years ago as a young manager I sat across from a leader I still admire today. His name is Mark Searle. Mark and I were talking about my development and me becoming a General Manager in the near future. I remember Mark and I talking about the restaurant, my people, what was going well, and the challenges I was facing. It was a powerful conversation.
But one thing Mark told me stood out from everything else he said. “Bobby, if it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen”.
It was a profound thing for a senior leader to say to me as a 24 year old manager and certainly became a cornerstone of my leadership style and who I have become as a leader. I didn’t fully understand it that day but soon it became clear exactly what Mark was talking about as I moved from Management to Leadership.
I began to write, a lot. I purchased my first DayTimer, I bought a nice binder for it, and I wrote it in every day. Seemingly a lot of what I wrote didn’t mean much but that quickly changed. I became an expert at writing notes from meetings, seminars, and one on one conversations with my team. As I got better at documenting my thoughts I found something happening inside of me: I got much better at leading my team.
Here are 5 Ways Writing has Helped me Become a Better Leader:

  1. I began to distill my thoughts in a way that anyone who read my notes could clearly understand what was happening in my team, even if they did not know the players personally. As a leader you help create confidence for folks far away from the action by showing that you know exactly what is happening and have it under control. The results have to be there of course but being able to lay it all out as you move forward is critical.
  2. I was able to inspire others with my writing. Seemingly recapping a conference or a meeting isn’t that exciting, but something happens when someone in the organization catches a vision. Being able to re-visualize again what happened at a meeting you went to, or a conversation you had is powerful and can be a catalyst for change in others.
  3. I soon learned that I wrote as much for myself as anyone else. At Chipotle as I wrote monthly recaps for our Board of Directors and Officers, I realized how much those recaps helped me. It kept everything straight in my head and crystallized exactly what was happening in my region with my team. It was extremely powerful. It reinforced the ideas, goals, and dreams I had which helped me communicate even more effectively with my team when I recapped them on our performance.
  4. It is powerful when you take an interest in someone’s development and take notes. During my time with Chipotle with 10 states, an expanding role, and 4300 team members in my region I visited a lot of restaurants and sat with a lot of leaders! I learned that sitting across from the newest employee to the longest tenured person working in the restaurant and taking time to understand who they were and what dreams they had was incredibly powerful. When you write it down it becomes inspirational. When I could step back into a restaurant weeks or months later and pick up a conversation with an employee because I had great notes it created a great deal of confidence that what when we said we wanted to create opportunities for them, we meant it!
  5. I was always clear on the performance of my region which helped me stay focused. It isn’t sexy but in the world of business you have to document your performance all the time to make sure you are on task with the goals and objectives of the organization. When I was promoted to Operations Director in 2005 I began this process of documenting how things were going in an email to my boss, which then got passed on to our CEO and Founder. I can distinctly remember getting a phone call one afternoon and spending an hour on the phone with them going through what I had discovered in my first month. Because I had written everything out I was crystal clear in my analysis and it helped me have a great conversation with them. By the time I became an Executive Regional Director in 2008 I had my entire team recapping their performance and it was a beautiful thing. And by then it had become an expectation for everyone in the company.

The written word is powerful and has greatly impacted my leadership over the years. How has writing made you a better leader?