How to Communicate “FOR” Others, Not “TO” Others.

One of the greatest lessons I learned as a leader was in my late twenties. I was directed by my boss to write a memo to our CEO, CFO, and several other senior executives in our large company.

Since I was new to the company, this was my first chance to make an impression with our C level executives. I spent several days writing a two-page memo,  making sure to impress them by using every complex sentence and lofty word I could think of.

A few hours after I gave it to my boss to read, he called me into his office and asked me what I thought of the letter I'd written. Proudly I responded, “It’s pretty good, huh?” "I assumed you thought that," he replied.  Next, he asked me, “Who did you write it for?” I responded, "The CEO, CFO, and the others listed on the ‘to' line of the memo.”

It was in this next moment as my boss began correcting me that I started to learn a valuable lessonin communication. Indeed, these C level executives were the ones I'd written this memo "to". But while I succeeded in writing to them, I'd failed miserably in writing for them.

Instead of respecting their time and responsibilities by writing a clear and concise executive summary, I had filled up two pages — not to mention several days of my time — trying to impress them.

My boss suggested I start over and this time "write it for them." Over the next few months, he would frequently critique my memos to all levels of the organization with this single challenge: communicate “for” your audience, not “to” them.

Action steps to help you: 

Begin understanding what matters to those you're writing to or communicating with.

  • What is the objective of your communication?
  • Do you expect a response?
    • If so, you must consider the readers’ other commitments and responsibilities.
    • Be sure to communicate that a clear response is needed and by when.


About the Author:

David Alexander is the CEO of TruGreen, Inc. He and his wife, Debbie, reside in Memphis, TN. Together they have a family of fourteen: 8 children (5 of whom are in college); 2 daughters-in-law; and 2 grandchildren.

David Alexander

David is the CEO of TrueGreen, Inc.