Developing Persuasion is a Daily Pursuit

Building the Three Critical Aspects of Persuasion

Effective leaders take people places they wouldn’t otherwise go, and inspire people to make commitments they wouldn’t otherwise make. 

This is why persuasion is such an important leadership skill. Leaders must embrace the idea that being persuasive is a key part of the job. Some leaders are reluctant to build up the skill of persuasion. They believe that if they are simply role models and live their convictions, this will be enough to get people to follow whatever strategies or values they want to impart. 

The truth is that persuasion is a leadership skill that you build over time. Each day you either become a little more persuasive or a little less persuasive.

Persuasion is based in three primary aspects of your leadership:

Ethos, or your credibility. Ethos is your reputation, or your personal brand. It is really the foundation, and maybe the most important part of persuasion. As people get to know you, they will develop a natural bias to trust you or not. If you want to be persuasive as a leader, it’s important to recognize that every interaction is either building up or tearing down your credibility. 

We all know leaders who have ethos, and because of this people are eager to hear what they have to say and to be a part of it. One leader with great ethos and the skill of persuasion was Martin Luther King Jr. He was an anticipated speaker and leader because of the credibility he brought and the conviction he showed. Conversely, we also all know leaders who have little or no ethos, and maybe a reputation for exaggeration or an inability to get the facts straight. Because of this, they will find cynical and predisposed audiences full of people who are not buying what they’re saying. 

Logos, or your word. Another critical part of persuasion is communication. When you speak, people will automatically judge whether what you’re saying is understandable and logical. If your words flow in a progressive and easy-to-understand way, your audience can follow your points. But if you speak in such a disjointed way that people have a hard time understanding your message, it’s going to be very hard to persuade people. 

Before you attempt to persuade an audience, first determine exactly what you want to encourage people to think and why you want them to think that way. Then define what’s in it for them, because it is human nature for people to do what they view to be in their own best interest. After you’ve laid out these points, ask yourself whether you argument is easy to understand and embrace. Being a competent communicator is critical to being an effective persuader. 

Pathos, or your passion. Pathos is the amount of conviction you have when sharing your ideas. It’s the difference between presenting an incentive as simply necessary (i.e., “towing the company line”) or demonstrating belief in what you’re doing by both demonstrating the behavior and putting your name behind it. Speaking empty words will not be persuasive, but if you communicate your idea in a way that shows that you believe strongly in it, you will have followers. 

Communicating your level of conviction is also a skill. There is a science to learning how to communicate emotion, yet still maintain control. For example, most of us remember Howard Dean, who was the frontrunner in 2004 during the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Dean lost his lead after he became unglued with enthusiasm during a rally and screamed in excitement. This outburst killed his campaign because it was passionate communication without any control.

Building your capacity for persuasion is an upward spiral of authenticity in ethos, logos and pathos. Leaders build their credibility over time. They increase their ability to communicate logically as they practice, prepare, receive feedback, and develop more effective ways to communicate conviction. These are the key components of being a persuasive leader.