The faintest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory’ is a Chinese proverb that I recently stumbled upon and is one that I believe captures an important point for leaders.
It is a good reminder to leaders for two specific reasons:
Firstly, as a leader you will be part of many conversations. Some of these conversations form part of everyday leadership practice and may have no anticipated significance beyond the here and now. However, others may prove more challenging, splintered and have longer consequences. These are the types of conversations that are like boomerangs and tend to come back at some point or another and when they do, remembering accurately what was said in the previous round, is important. You usually develop a good ‘feel’ for these type of conversations and when ‘done’, usually you are left is a strong sense that they are in reality, ‘far from over’. These are the types of conversations that leaders should take a few minutes to jot down the salient points, the divides in the conversation that might be skewed by time and perspective. Memory can prove an unreliable alley when it comes time to recall such conversations and a few cryptic notes recorded whilst the conversation was still fresh, can prove immensely helpful. Drawing on such a record can also send a powerful message and serve as a forceful example to others about the importance of what is said and how seriously their thoughts and opinions are taken. Recording important conversations is a good disciple for leaders to cultivate. Becoming known as someone who listens and takes seriously what is said and keeps reminders to this effect is not a bad reputation to have as a leader.
A second reason to write rather than merely remember has a more personal slant. Meg Wheatley writes that, ‘thinking is the place where all intelligent actions begins’. As a leader, you need to ‘think’ – you need to be seen dedicating time to thinking; an intentional pausing and practicing the art of reflection. Exactly what this looks like in your context and setting is something you will have to decide for yourself but when you do stop to reflect, recording some of what happens in this space is a powerful and useful leadership habit to cultivate. It is from such scribblings that memoirs emerge and they can often become a wonderful source of wisdom to pass on or draw from when mentoring or on occasion when you may be required to give a lecture or talk. They can also provide a rich source for gaining perspective in understanding and seeing your own growth and development as a leader. The value in taking regular time to record your reflections is often only fully realized when rereading them further down the road and situations or details that would have long been forgotten spring vividly into life.
The faintest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory. What might than mean for you in your leadership practice?
I love this advice and article. Reading it just now, makes me feel like my efforts to do what it says over the decades was worthwhile. Thanks for putting this post together.