Merge's Blog

The 5 Practices of Leadership Literacy


This article was originally published on November 13, 2017 and has been updated.

books in place of leader’s head symbolizing leadership literacy


Leaders have a responsibility: a responsibility to create an environment of trust, to guide, to create, to motivate, and transform. But to do all these things, a leader must be literate.

And by “literate”, I mean knowledgeable.

Today, information is ubiquitous. It’s found on the tips of our fingers (on the closest keyboard, tablet, or smartphone screen) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

And with information so readily available, ignorance is no longer an acceptable excuse.

But with endless amounts of information available at our fingertips, there also come false facts, “fake news”, internet trolls, pyramid schemes and the like. This is why looking at all this information requires critical thinking and careful evaluation.

How do you define a good leader?

A real leader thinks critically about everything in front of them, and they are accountable for the things they do and say. It is possible to tell the difference between genuine data and pseudo-science; between real facts and false news.

But how?

Being able to think critically requires reading beyond the headlines‚it requires evaluating the sources, the author, and the facts.

One of the greatest leadership qualities is the ability to appreciate and comprehend the people you work with. This means making the extra effort and taking the time to get to know the people you work with.

Ignorance may be bliss, but when it comes to being a great leader, leadership literacy is not only essential, but completely achievable.

The 5 Practices of 21st Century Leadership Literacy

leader fixing his tieWith this cautionary counsel in mind, here are 5 practices of 21st century leadership literacy every leader should follow:

1. Google it

If you don’t understand a word or a phrase, look it up. Sure, it takes a minute, but over the course of one month those minutes add up to more knowledge.

2. Use the Internet

If you’re meeting someone for the first time, take the time to get to know them in advance, whether on their website, LinkedIn or Facebook.

I’m not saying get to know the name of their great aunt’s dog, but get to know their career, achievements – even their hobbies.

3. Learn it

For example, if your company is selling a new product, learn how it is made or delivered.  Talk to the experts in your company. Ask questions – get curious.

4. Find out more

If something is important to your employees, find out why and how. Talk to your people.  Ask questions, and listen to their answers.

5. Do your research

Before “sharing” information as truth, research it. Confirm it comes from reliable peer-reviewed sources. Verify it at Snopes or RationalWiki or FactCheck.

Literacy is a prerequisite; ignorance is unacceptable

Practicing transformational leadership can change lives: theirs and yours. It’s no longer acceptable to run on assumptions, or to not know what your employees or customers already know.

So look it up. Ask questions. Find out more. Check your biases and verify information.

Leadership literacy. Too simple? Or did I get it right? As always, I would love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts by commenting below.

For more about leadership styles and skills, check out these blog posts!

Six steps you can take today to work towards a leadership role tomorrow
Enhance leadership development by thoughtfully communicating long-term plans
Leaders who exhibit vulnerability create an environment that nurtures employee learning




  • Hi Merge. If you don’t mind, I’m going to take your topic here in a bit of a different direction and welcome your comments. I love what you wrote here. “Literate, ” I mean knowledgeable. And, Ignorance is no longer an acceptable excuse.

    I recently completed a 2 Day Training Program with the Canadian Mental Health Association, Alberta Region. “CMHA Certified Psychological Health and Safety Advisor Training.” The Training itself prepared the attendees like myself to reach out to employers and increase their awareness of the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace… through conversations with employers.
    – Knowledge/Ignorance is no longer an acceptable excuse –

    • I couldn’t agree more Robert. Fortunately, mental illness is being discussed more openly nowadays and is beginning to lose some of the negative stigma that used to keep it under wraps in the past.

  • In addition, do not give an excuse to yourself or to others that due to an advanced age, you can not learn new things. Be assured that you are expected to learn up to your last breath.

    • Agreed! I always tell leaders in my client organizations that they must expect their employees, ALL their employees, no matter what age, to continue to learn. If you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind! Thanks for your insight Arun.

  • You make some good points about critical thinking. Fortunately more schools are teaching critical thinking to students as a way of educating them how to examine and try and understand the difference between fake news and real science. Being able to think critically is not only a valuable life skill it is, as you say, a valuable leadership skill too. Thanks!

    • That is indeed excellent news Lesley. This needs to be taught to people at a young age so that they can carry this important life skill into adulthood. I am constantly taken aback by the number of otherwise reasonably intelligent individuals who lose their ability to think critically when faced with some of pseudo-science conspiracy theories that are floating around on the Internet.


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