By Chris Widener
If you have heard me talk about leadership at all, you will know that I have
a very simple definition of Leadership. Leadership is simply: Influence.
That’s it. Simple. When you lead, you influence. To lead others is to
influence them through various means to follow you to your vision of a
preferred thought, belief or action.
One of the key ways to do so is to increase your ability to persuade people.
Now, at first glance you may do as many do and think of persuasion as simply
a verbal plea or argument (in the positive sense of the word) that seeks to
change someone’s mind. I want to focus in on what I believe to be a much
more well rounded view of persuasion, one that has been around for many
hundreds of years, and which, when applied, will increase your ability to
persuade others, or influence them.
My basic points for this article are found from Aristotle’s “The Rhetoric.”
They are what I call the “Three Legs of Persuasion.” Together they enable us
to fully persuade people. Miss any of the three legs and it is like trying
to sit on a three-legged stool that is missing one leg!
What are the three legs? They are:
Logos, or Logic
Pathos, or Passion
Ethos, or Ethics
Let’s start with the two that are most prevalent, Logic and Passion, and end
with what I consider to be the most important, Ethics.
In order to master the art of persuasion, you must have:
1. Logic. Your vision must make sense to the person who is following you (or
the one you are trying to get to follow you!). How is this done?
Vision. Do you have a vision of where it is that you want to go? Do you have
the destination in mind? If you want people to follow you, you need to have
a vision, an end result that you are targeting.
Clarity. Is the vision clear? Can it be articulated clearly? Is it simple
enough to grasp? Does it make sense?
Communication. Can you communicate your vision so that it is understandable
and compelling? Do you communicate it regularly so that the logic of it
Strategy. The strategy for getting to your destination must be logical for
your followers. Does it make sense for them to follow you on the journey of
your vision for your organization? A well-thought out strategy for getting
to your vision is a must.
2. Passion. People underestimate the principle of passion. Today more than
ever, this element of being passionate about your vision is paramount to the
idea of persuasion.
As we leave the modern era and move into what sociologists are calling the
“post-modern” era, people are going to be persuaded less by logic and reason
than they are passion. We live in a video age that uses images and music to
move people more than sense and reason. For example, think about how
basketball shoes are sold today. They ads don’t say, “These shoes are made
from the finest rubber and leather and will sustain the shock of x amount of
pounds of pressure, etc, etc.” No, today shoes are sold by showing
basketball players dribbling the ball to a methodical beat. Image. Passion.
So do we throw out logic? Certainly not, but we understand that the passion
we demonstrate is extremely important. Probably more important than logic
and increasingly so in the years to come.
Are you passionate about your vision? Does that come through when you speak
about it? Does it come through in the materials that you distribute to
support your vision?
People want to know that you are passionate about your vision. If you aren’t
passionate about it, then why should they be? Your vision must be
passionately compelling. After all, you are asking them to put themselves on
the line, to give it all to get the group to the vision. It takes a
passionate person to move a group toward a vision. And the bigger the
vision, the more passion you need to get there!
3. Ethics. This is what I believe to be the most important aspect of these
three legs of persuasion. Ethics. Integrity. Character. However you want to
say it, people look at you and are constantly judging your character.
You may have tremendous skills. You may have all the logic in the world and
passion to fill a sporting arena, but if your followers see a crack in your
character, they will run for the hills. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not
talking about mistakes. Followers will allow for mistakes. But they will not
allow for poor character.
I know what you must be thinking: Wait a minute. We have all sorts of
leaders with poor character - just look at the politicians! A few thoughts
on that very good question:
Many of the people we think have poor character have many others (and in a
politician’s case, they just need 51%) who think their character is fine, or
at least sufficient. So for some the question of ethics has been answered,
just differently than we would answer it. For example, polls show that most
people think that politicians are unethical and corrupt in general. But when
polled on their own representative, they answer that that person is just
fine, thank you very much.
Secondly, we have seen that very talented leaders are eventually undone by
their lack of character, or at least thwarted in their goals of leadership.
Let’s take Bill Clinton for example. What do we know about him? What would
most people agree upon?
For one, he is smart, a Rhode’s scholar. For another, he is talented. Still
more, he is passionate and driven. He is winsome and gregarious. We also
know that he had a few “character problems.”
“But he was re-elected,” you may point out. True, but he didn’t accomplish
what he wanted to because he was answering the question of his character all
of the time. And beyond that, many people who were big supporters of his
ended up realizing that they could have someone else who would provide
leadership without the sideshow, and they abandoned him in droves by the
To his major detractors, Bill Clinton was an example of a person who lacked
the character to lead. To his supporters he has become a caricature of lost
opportunity because of the issues of character. Now, I do not intend to turn
this article into a discussion of politics, but I use Clinton as an example
of how people who are both opposed as well as sympathetic to him and his
vision can agree that character questions were his undoing.
Where does this leave us? Hopefully you aren’t dealing with the kind of
issues we have seen in our political process lately, but you should be
asking yourself what your character is like.
Am I honest? Am I who I say I am? Do I do what is right? Am I responsible?
Am I the same behind closed doors as I am in public? Am I a person of
integrity? These are the most important questions. The way your followers
answer them about you will determine to what degree they follow you. Will
people follow you if your character is less than stellar? Maybe. But all
other things being the same, a strong character will put you over the top.
Logic, passion and ethics are the three legs of persuasion. Become a person
with a vision that is logical and well thought out, combine that with a
passionate pursuit, and you are well on your way to persuading people and
achieving the goal for your organization. The key will be what kind of
character you have. If you develop a fine, strong character, with high
personal ethics, you will have all three legs of persuasion - and you will
become an Extraordinary Leader!
Chris Widener is a popular speaker and writer as well as the President of
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