In a recent review of research carried out at The University of Lausanne in Switzerland, Harvard Business Review reported that: “The most effective leaders layer charismatic leadership on top of transactional and instrumental leadership to achieve their goals.”

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Whilst I wholeheartedly welcome any reports that help to spread the word that a sprinkling of charisma – used in conjunction with proven leadership disciplines – can only serve to improve leadership effectiveness and results, I have to say that I struggle to understand why so many people still seem to be surprised by this information!

It was The Greek Philosopher Aristotle that first identified that, to be a more effective communicator and leader, an individual must first understand and master the ‘Art of Rhetoric’ – the ability to see and utilize the available means of persuasion. He described three main forms of rhetoric: Ethos, Logos, and Pathos:

Ethos (Greek for Character) Refers to an individual’s credibility or ethical appeal. Simply, we tend to believe people whom we respect. The trustworthiness or credibility of a Leader – their ethos – is often conveyed through the tone and style of their message and through the way they refer to differing views. Personal ethos will very much be affected by reputation as it exists independently from the message – individual expertise in the field, along with previous record or integrity. One of the central challenges of leadership is to project an impression that you are an authority, someone worth listening to, and at the same time someone who is authentic, likable, and worthy of respect.

Logos (Greek for Word) means persuading by the use of reasoning. Logos refers to the internal consistency of the individual’s message, the clarity of the claim, the logic of its reasons, and the effectiveness of its supporting evidence. The impact of logos on an audience is sometimes called the argument’s logical appeal. For a Leader, giving effective, persuasive reasons, along with facts and statistics to back up your call to action is critical to ‘winning minds’. However, as Aristotle, The University of Lausaunne, and countless other commentators over the centuries have identified, a really effective, persuasive, call to action – one that is likely to win battles, inspire revolution, change cultures and behaviours – will need to be delivered from the heart, and will need to resonate and connect at a deep emotional level. Truly effective Leaders understand the power of appealing to pathos when it comes to  ‘winning hearts as well as minds’

Pathos (Greek for ‘suffering’ or ‘experience’) is often associated with emotional appeal to the audience’s sympathies and imagination. An appeal to pathos causes an audience not just to respond emotionally, but to identify with the speaker’s point of view – to feel what they feel. One of the most effective ways of conveying a ‘pathetic’ appeal is through narrative or story, which can turn the abstractions of logic into something palpable and present. The values, beliefs, and understandings of the individual are implicit in the story and conveyed imaginatively to their audience. In Leadership terms, pathos creates both the emotional and the imaginative impact of the message and the power with which the Leader’s message moves the audience to decision or action.

Charismatic Leaders instinctively recognize that the persuasive appeal of pathos is an appeal to a group’s sense of identity, their self-interest, and their emotions. Charismatic Leaders understand that the better that they are able -with their words -to create a positive image that their followers can identify with, the more effectively they will inspire and motivate their followers to achieve mutually desired goals.  

NB. ‘Charisma’ derives from The Greek ‘khárisma’ meaning ‘gift of grace’. Interestingly for anybody looking to become more persuasive, the word had a second meaning, which was ‘favour freely given’.

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