Corner Office-The Ethos, Pathos, and Logos Combos
One of my very favorite things to do is hang out with my granddaughter “CC” (a nickname I gave her). She is four years old and, although I may be just a little biased, is a cute little princess. On a cool night this past November, CC came over to visit. As we were sitting on the sofa together in the family room, with Clyde, a 150-pound lab that thinks he’s a lap dog, CC looked up at me and said, “Papa, will you read to me”?
Now, if you saw this fairy-tale face of hers, you would understand why her wish is my command. So, I smiled and told her to pick out a book that she would like to have Papa read to her. She went to her book basket and after sorting through what seemed like over 100 books, she finally selected one. It was Hour of the Olympics, written by Mary Pope Osborne, about kids who have an adventure in ancient Greece.
With CC snuggled in by my side and the warmth of the crackling fire giving off a beautiful orange and yellow light, I began to read to her. Several pages into the book, the most amazing thing happened . . . we both began to fall asleep! As I started to doze off, the story I was reading began to play out in my mind.
The next thing I knew, I was flying past the IDS Center on the back of Pegasus with his giant white wings gently flapping. Usually I’m not comfortable with horseback riding, but this was a smooth ride. We sailed through a cloud, charged into the sunset, and flew beyond the brilliant edges of the earth. Suddenly, Pegasus began to descend, and I recognized the bright blue Mediterranean Sea and an island that I recalled from sixth-grade geography as the second-largest island of Greece: Euboea.
As Pegasus continued his descent, the air warmed and smelled of fragrant olive groves. We landed in the courtyard of a small home, where I saw a white-haired man lying on a chaise longue, wearing sandals and a brown embroidered tunic cinched with a leather belt. By the time I had climbed down off Pegasus’ back, the man was walking toward me.
“Hello, Mr. Sheffert,” he said. “I am Aristotle. I understand that you have some questions about my philosophies. You are welcome to be my student today.”
I shook his outstretched hand and thanked him. That’s when I noticed that I, too, wore a tunic and sandals. Wow. This was getting weirder by the minute. Aristotle walked across the courtyard, sat down on his chaise, and motioned for me to sit next to him.
“I enjoy relaxing in the quiet country at this point in my life, just like you, Mr. Sheffert.” I wondered how he knew so much about me, but somehow I knew it was best not to ask. “I hope you don’t mind meeting here instead of at Plato’s Academy. They don’t quite agree with everything I believe in, and . . . well, you understand how it is with office politics?” I assured him that I was comfortable and that I certainly understood office politics.
“Besides,” Aristotle continued, “since the death of my famous student, Alexander the Great, I haven’t been exactly popular in the city.” He shook his head and rolled his eyes. Some things haven’t changed in 2,500 years, I marveled.
“So, what do you want to know?” Aristotle asked. Time-traveling to my senior year of high school came to mind, but instead I asked him to explain his concepts of ethos, pathos, and logos and how they relate to business leadership. I explained that in the time and place from where I had come, his On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civil Discourse, was often used as a guide for persuasive speaking and writing. I had been wondering if his concepts also related to business leadership, since effective leaders are also persuasive leaders.
Aristotle nodded in agreement. “That’s very insightful, Mr. Sheffert. My compliments.” I felt my chest swelling up. But then he said, “You are not nearly of the intellect of Alexander the Great, however.” I lowered my eyes in embarrassment. Then he explained that rhetoric is the ability, in each particular case, to see the available means of persuasion and that there are three main forms of rhetoric: ethos, logos, and pathos.
“First, let’s discuss ethos, or authority, ethical appeal, and credibility,” Aristotle said. “Persuasive speakers must demonstrate their trustworthiness through their tone and style, and so do business leaders. As others decide whether or not you have earned the right to be called their leader, they take into account your reputation, integrity, ethical behavior, and experience. If they don’t respect you, they won’t listen to what you say, or follow your direction. No respect, no followers.”
I wondered what Aristotle would think had he time-traveled to the present day, where unethical behavior by some executives had brought about the demise of many good businesses.
“Now let’s examine pathos, or an appeal to the emotions,” Aristotle continued. “There is persuasion when the hearers are led to feel emotion by a speech. Persuasive speakers, as well as good leaders, connect with their audiences and show them that they identify with their point of view. Telling employees, for example, that the new initiative to improve productivity will decrease operating expenses by 5 percent is not as effective as explaining how it will make their jobs easier.”
As Aristotle spoke, the best business leaders I know came to mind, because they have the ability to relate to all types of people and know how to be good listeners and persuasive speakers. Those who are arrogant and can only talk in “CEO-speak” are never as successful.
“And that leads me to my favorite quality, logos,” Aristotle smiled. “Logos means word in Greek. It refers to the internal consistency and logic of the speaker’s message or of the business executive’s leadership. It’s the logical appeal that you offer to your audience or followers. The use of reasoning is the most important technique in persuasive speech, and is the most important technique in business leadership as well. Executives can’t persuade employees to support their vision for the company by simply saying, ‘this is what you have to do.’ Rather, if they give reasons and explain their logic and if the logic holds together, people will feel comfortable with the vision and will begin to understand how it applies to their daily work.
“Besides, you constantly have to prove that you’re smarter than a box of rocks,” he laughed. From what I had learned about Aristotle and his days of debating with Plato, I knew he was speaking from personal experience. I also knew from my personal experience how important it is to have sound logic backing up a vision or a strategic plan, and to communicate it thoroughly, and often.
“These three qualities inspire confidence in speakers and business leaders: Good sense, good moral character, and goodwill play a large part in gaining credibility for your ideas and leadership. And, don’t forget that people judge your ideas by judging your writing skills,” he winked at me. I made a mental note to make sure to run this article through a spell checker.
I noticed that the sun was beginning to melt into the western horizon—it was time for me to head back home. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Aristotle,” I said. I told him that his concepts were timeless, for they are still good advice for people in general, and especially for business leaders living in the year 2007 A.D. We stood up and shook hands as Pegasus softly neighed in my direction. I would never forget this day, but was eager to go home and write about it.
Then, Pegasus and I were traveling through the sunset. The ride back to 2007 was smooth. I patted Pegasus and said good-bye. That’s when I woke up. CC was still sleeping next to me. She looked so content curled up on the sofa with her favorite blanket. Since she was still asleep, I decided I should sit down in front of my computer and write about my trip to ancient Greece. As my fingers flew across the keyboard, I laughed as I imagined the shock on my editor’s face when she read this one.
P.S.: Thanks, Mary Pope Osborne, for this article. Although your books are a favorite of my granddaughter, grey-haired guys like me love to imagine time travel, too!