Why leadership is all about communication


I remember my first day in persuasion class. The lecturer played back to us one of the most famous speeches of Abraham Lincoln to troops in an open field – Standing tall, with shoulders pulled back and hands held behind his back to show a confident carriage, Abraham moved steadily amongst the troops, eyes steadily connecting with individuals, voice on a steady octave. By the time he was done, I would have taken a gun and gone to war, if I had to. From that moment, I began to glean the elements that pull good communication together. Three of those elements pretty much form the bedrock of communication in my opinion.

Ethos has several applications. In ‘Wiki’ it says ‘ a Greek word meaning ‘Character’ that is used to describe the guiding ideals that characterizes a community, nation or ideology. It is also used to ascribe credibility to an individual or cause. Often times people forget that when they set out to speak, who they are and what they have done in the past is relevant to whatever they say, no matter how far removed the present subject is. Today, we are surrounded by experts and people seeking to bring some clarity into a relatively confused world. Whether journalists, politicians, educationist, company heads or employees, we are bombarded each day by opinions and deductions. Information comes and goes so fast, that seldom do we stop to ask, ‘hang on, but who is this person giving us this information?’ or so the giver of the information thinks; that no one is asking. There is a feeling that the journey doesn’t matter, it is the destination that counts. It doesn’t matter how many toes you step on or how many lies you tell on your way up, you can explain it all away when you get there. Is this really true? Today I turn on CNN and the talk is on ‘Birthism’ (as they call it). Donald Trump is seeking to take away the spotlight from his emphasis on the birthplace of President Obama many years ago. Suddenly, he doesn’t ascribe to the conversation that Obama is not really an American? And Hilary keeps saying to the potential voter, ‘Look at my record’… A boom just went off in New York and off course Hilary is claiming to be better equipped to give a better response because she was a senator during the unfortunate 9/11. I get into my home country, Ghana, where it is political season again as well and promises are flying like sparks from a well-lit fire.

It is important for people to realize that in communication, your ethos is very important. Who are you? What gives you the credibility to tell me what you are telling me? – The next time you get into a communication situation with someone or a group of people, why don’t you start by telling them what gives you the right to say what you are saying. For instance, I studied communication and I work in the communication space and so I do have the credibility to be talking to you about ethos right now. The next time someone gets up to tell you something, take a minute to look into their character, their track record and their credibility; for as soon as you give them entrance into your thoughts, they are shifting your thought process, so be sure you are giving it away to the right person.

Pathos is ‘a way of convincing an audience…by creating an emotional response’. Masters of communication, master this. Take your mind back to the last time you listened to someone speak and how you felt. Notice how the person who made you feel something, either sadness, laughter, or empathy, anger or whatever, takes your vote, as opposed to the person who made you feel nothing or worse, bored? You probably remained indifferent. The feeling probably had nothing to do with the substance of the material. It is possible even, that the person who showed no passion or left a very little impression had more facts. We may describe this as charisma in some situations; recently I refused a speaker simply because they had no charisma. President Obama speaking to black voters in New York talks about his legacy and says to them ‘You want to give me a good send off, go vote!’ He is clearly relying strongly here on Pathos!

Good speakers will find a way to connect with the audience and to make the audience identify with them, keeping in mind that different things work for different audiences. Perhaps pathos sits on top of the pile when it comes to communication; For how else will you explain people voting all over the world for the clearly wrong candidate maybe, simply because they speak the same language, look the same, have the same religion. The list goes on and communicators exploit this off course. Notice how a speech may begin with ‘fellow Americans’ or ‘We in the NDC or NPP’…’ the pulse of an emotional response lies in creating familiarity, empathy, sympathy, anger etc. and this is why seemingly very educated people may even respond in ways that make you go huh? Some political parties have mastered this, whiles others still stumble in the dark. Whiles others seek to appeal to the mind by focusing on logic, some simply appeal to the emotions and sail away with the price into the sunset.

But the mind does have its place in communication. It is called Logos. Aristotle applied the term to refer to ‘reasoned discourse’ wiki says ‘logos is logical appeal, and the term logic is derived from it’ it goes on to say   ‘it is normally used to describe facts and figures that support the speaker’s topic’. Many people are impassioned about their believes or opinions, but have very little facts and figures to back it up. In my experience in communication settings, this may be the final nail in the coffin or the thread that pulls at the seams and makes every thing prior come undone.

Some argue that naturally men are more logical and that women tend to be more ethos and pathos oriented. Or that the more educated may be more oriented to logos, as opposed to pathos? These are not attributes restricted to the sexes or level of education though, I will say to that. Depending on where on the scale you fall, you can always take steps to fill in your gaps. We see it all over. People in authority making sweeping comments or claims with far reaching consequences and not taking a minute to fact check or get some data. CNN actually has a program with a liner that says ‘fact checking the fact checkers’ (I think). People are wired differently to respond to pathos, ethos or logos.

Yes, leadership IS communication! For after all, your job in any kind of leadership position, even if it is just standing in front of one person and having the floor to speak, is about persuasion. Your job is to get the other person to see or at least empathize with what you are saying and then maybe you can get them to act in a way that brings value to you or to them or to the general community. As communication leaves a sender to the receiver, many things can happen to influence what finally gets delivered and understood; some of them you have no control over. But this what you do have control over – Who you are, how you connect with your audience and will what you say stand the test of scrutiny. Did I communicate adequately to you in this piece?


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