by Scott Edinger | HBR January 2013
In my nearly 20 years of work in organisation development, I’ve never heard anyone say that a leader communicated too much or too well. On the contrary, the most common improvement suggestion I’ve seen offered up on the thousands of 360 evaluations I’ve reviewed over the years is that it would be better if the subject in question learned to communicate more effectively.
What makes someone a good communicator? There’s no mystery here, not since Aristotle identified the three critical elements — ethos, pathos, and logos. — thousands of years ago.
Ethos is essentially your credibility — that is, the reason people should believe what you’re saying. In writing this blog I made an effort to demonstrate my ethos in the introduction, and here I’ll just add that I have a degree in communication studies (emphasis in rhetoric for those who want the details) for good measure. In some cases, ethos comes merely from your rank within an organisation. More commonly, though, today’s leaders build ethos most effectively by demonstrating technical expertise in a specific area (which helps convince people that you know what you’re talking about), and by displaying strong levels of integrity and character (which convinces them that you’re not going to lie to them even though, since you know more than they do, you might get away with it).
Pathos is making an emotional connection — essentially, the reason people believe that what you’re saying will matter to them. I’ve written here before about the importance and the power of making emotional bonds (more ethos?) and why I believe this to be a critical area of competence for present-day leaders. Giving people your undivided attention, taking an active interest in your team members’ career development, and being enthusiastic about both the organisation’s progress and the individuals who enable it are ways that leaders do this well. At the end of the day, pathos has the greatest influence on followers’ perception of their leader’s effectiveness as a communicator.
But all the authority and empathy in the world won’t really help you if people don’t understand what you’re talking about or how you came to your conclusions. Logos is your mode for appealing to others’ sense of reason, ergo the term logic. Employing strengths in strategic thinking, problem solving, and analytical skills are how today’s leaders express logical ideas in clear and compelling enough terms to influence outcomes. While some people can get by on gut feel, as Steve Jobs famously tried to convince us he did, most leaders are required to provide some kind of analysis to make clear their decisions. This is where many leaders feel on the firmest ground — when assembling and analysing data to address organisational problems. A caveat, though — assembling facts is not the same as presenting them clearly (here talking in complete sentences helps a lot), or marshaling them expressly to demonstrate the merits of a course of action. Facts do not speak for themselves, which is sad, since it would save so much time if they did. Effective leaders know the effort and time spent making explicit the connections they’re drawing from the data to the analysis to their conclusion are well worth it.
These three elements of communication reinforce one another. You may rely heavily on data and analysis (logos) to make a point and in so doing create a perception of expertise and authority on a topic (ethos). And while all three are necessary to excellent communication, improving your ability to do any one of them will help you become a better communicator and so a better leader. Combining them is the path to achieving the greatest success.
How we can help to assist you with better communication-
On the Table Consulting creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive and leadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.
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