Leadership & Communication

Persuasive Leadership

persuasive leadership

An appreciation of persuasion principles can make a practical contribution to our influencing skills. If leadership is defined as influence then persuasion is an important element of effective leadership.

Leaders, by definition, must effectively influence change, improvement, innovation and performance. Their task is to create positive, sustainable performance environments – often in the face of challenge, an unacceptable status quo or a window of opportunity.

So how can we be more effective, persuasive influencers? How can we encourage that aspect of readiness that Situational Leadership® calls “willingness”?

More than 2,000 years ago Aristotle gave us three essential elements of persuasive communication:

Ethos: how credible the audience perceives the speaker to be
Logos: how logical and effectively structured the speaker’s argument is
Pathos: how emotionally appealing the communication is

We can translate these fairly simply into a leadership context by asking how credible, logical and empathetic we are perceived to be as we seek to influence others. We can apply these questions to persuasive situations ranging from providing performance feedback to introducing change, from encouraging innovation to enforcing compliance, from building teamwork to engaging external stakeholders.

Our ethos, or credibility, with others is what influences willingness in terms of confidence in us and what we are proposing. Can they trust us? Can they believe in the task?

Our logos, or logical argument, is what influences willingness in terms of commitment. Does what we’re proposing make sense? Does our argument stack up?

Our pathos, or empathy and appeal to the emotions, is what influences willingness in terms of motivation. Is there something appealing about the proposal? Does it respect my fears and concerns? Does the opportunity excite and inspire?

Confidence. Commitment. Motivation. They’re essential aspects of willingness. And they’re directly related to our ethos, our logos and our pathos. The key essential elements of persuasiveness.

How consciously and effectively we manage our credibility, our logic and our empathy directly affects our ability to effectively influence others. The problem is, we’re often unaware of how our ethos, our logos and our pathos are perceived by others.

So let’s consider three ways in which we can assess and manage these key aspects of persuasive leadership.

First, assess the sources and levels of your ethos.

* Your position or authority – the formal “power base” that enables you to take the lead with organisational endorsement.
* Your experience or expertise – the acknowledged and known track record and relevant ability to understand the group’s work context, including processes and challenges.
* Your trustworthiness with the group – typically communicated by their openness and willingness to support you.

Second, consider how logical your argument for change, improvement or innovation is.

* Does it clearly address a need or worthwhile opportunity that the audience (followers, team members) can relate to?
* Does it acknowledge counter arguments or concerns?
* Does it “make sense” to their context?
* Is it clear and simple? Remember: “A confused mind always says no” (Christopher Dewitt, 2009, Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint).

Third, reflect on how you are expressing concern for others in relation to what you are asking them to do.

* Are you acknowledging fears, hopes, uncertainty or aspirations?
* Are you offering some benefit – explaining “What’s In It For You?”
* Are you open to questions?
* Are you demonstrating that you are committed to understanding first, then to being understood (Steven Covey’s 4th habit of highly effective people)?

Of course, not every persuasive situation requires careful analysis and management of each of these elements. Sometimes one will override the others. Sometimes we will need to more intentionally highlight or accentuate one over the others. Sometimes, one will inevitably be less than adequate for the situation, meaning we have to rely more on the other persuasive elements.

But be aware of this: just as you can’t rely on your positional power alone to persuade others, you can’t rely on facts, data or even logic either.

“The mistake many leaders make is to assume that followers can be engaged primarily through rational analysis and straightforward assertion of facts … But this approach – on its own – is rarely successful in energising others … In order to properly engage others, leaders need to construct a compelling narrative. They must find a way of looking at the world that allows others not only to understand their role in it but also to be excited by it” (Goffee, R., Jones, G., 2006, Why should anyone be led by You?)

Persuasive communication is at the heart of effective leadership. By appreciating and managing our ethos, logos and pathos we are better able to effectively persuade and influence those we lead.

Aubrey Warren
Situational Leadership® Australia

Find out more about Informa’s leadership, management and communication courses here.

© Pacific Training & Development, 2010. Used with permission. For more information about leadership and team development, communication training or accredited coaching go towww.pacific.qld.edu.au or call 1300 736 646.
Situational Leadership® is a registered trademark of the Center for Leadership Studies, 230 West Third Ave., Escondido, CA 92025. www.situational.com All rights reserved.

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