“Know your audience.”

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We hear this all the time, but how often do we practice it? Even if we think we know our audience, most of us spend a heck of a lot of time talking to ourselves. It’s only human, but it doesn’t serve us well.

As an editor, I see it all the time. Writers spend their first two to four paragraphs essentially clearing their throats, working their ideas out on the page, or telling me something they really want to tell me instead of something readers need to hear.

Yes, we have to push our ideas and opinions out there (this is about our power to do something), but we have to do it in context (this is more about influence and impact). If we want to connect with other human beings at all, we have to listen. Writing and speaking with our audience in mind is a way of listening. We have to know what is important to our reader, our boss or co-worker, our neighbor, our partner, or friend. Only then do we have a shot at meaningful conversation. Otherwise, most of the time we’re just adding to the noise.

We spend so much time telling women leaders to speak up, get out there, and take a stand that I worry we’ve forgotten about our audience. And why are women leaders so important anyway? Who is all this leadership for? Who is listening and who isn’t?

On the job, are you leading for yourself or are you offering something you know your team or organization can really use? Something your leadership team values? In your activism, are you pushing an initiative you think would be a good idea and is desperately needed in your community or the world, or have you done your research and identified a need?

There’s nothing wrong with sensing a need and responding to it, or “being the change you wish to see in the world”—we’re often introducing new ideas that simply haven’t been done before—but we shoot ourselves in the foot when we fail to look beyond ourselves or the initial seed of an idea to make our work a conversation with others.