Intake Blog

The Curse of Ghost Writing

posted July 02, 2012 by

How often, at work and in life, do you let other people talk for you?  How often do you let other people dictate what you say to your wife, husband or child?  How often do you allow someone else to script your conversation with your boss, your co-worker or your friends?  Chances are, probably not very often or pretty much – never. 

Yet, for some reason, ghost writing remains a prevalent tactic in leadership communications across all types and sizes of organizations today.  CEO’s, CTO, CFO’s, Presidents and VP’s rely on someone else, often times someone they’ve never spoken with or met, to tell their story for them.  Let me start by saying, I understand why this is done.  Some leaders are not born communicators, they don’t have the command of language that others do.  And yes, often times the information shared in a speech, article or memo is full of sensitive information that needs to be fact-checked and air tight.  But these reasons are no longer an adequate excuse.  With the rise of social media, the internal (and external) communications landscape is changing rapidly, putting leaders and ghost writers in a precarious predicament.  A major transformation is on the horizon and the floodgates are about to be opened.

Ghost writing, although innocent in its original intentions, has cursed our C-Suite leadership.  A reliance on ghost writers has translated to the avoidance of a necessary skill in any business environment – writing.  Prior to the advancements of modern technology, leaders could rely on a time delay to allow ghostwriters to craft announcements and respond to the press or employees.  Today, executives are expected to lead in “real-time” and unfortunately, ghost writing has disabled top leaders from taking advantage of newly evolved communication mediums.  Understandably, many executives are overwhelmed by the idea of writing, let alone writing short form content that is posted to thousands of followers who can respond immediately.  If I was in their shoes and had no experience and limited knowledge about social communications, I would be worried too!

Much to the chagrin of these leaders, social media is not going away.  In fact, it has infiltrated their company’s walls.  It’s taking root in their own IT divisions and across departments and countries in the form of Enterprise Social Software Platforms.  As employee communications practitioners, it is our duty to help executives through this transition.  It’s a transition that requires a shift in mindset as well as a shift in behavior, no easy feat.  However, by continuing to provide a crutch (ghostwriting) we are only doing them a disservice.  We are impairing their ability be credible and effective leaders in the future.  Instead, we need to take on the role of educators.  We need to guide executives through the world of social communication, explain to them how it works, and help them test and learn – coach them through the process. 

And about governance (because I know you are thinking about that), fact checking still applies.  Communications calendars can still be used.  Key figures can still be provided for sharing.  Plans can still be put in place in times of crisis.  The main difference?  Executives are personally accountable for everything they say.  Some people are terrified of this.  My response to that is, why is that such a bad thing?  Don’t we want our leaders to really know what they are talking about?  Don’t we want our leaders to present themselves authentically and tell the truth?  Didn’t those leaders make it to the top because they are competent and have good judgment?  If you wince at the last question, you might have a bigger problem on your hands.  But, that’s for another post.

So, next time you are asked to write a memo, article or quarterly review for an organizational leader.  Give pause.  Consider the long-term ramifications for this leader, consider your role as a consultant and do the right thing. 

It’s time to put the ghosts to rest.