The Three Legs of Persuasion:

by Chris Widener

   Leadership is simply influence. That's it. Simple. When you lead, you influence. To lead others is to influence them through various means to follow you to your vision of a preferred thought, belief or action.
   One of the key ways to do so is to increase your ability to persuade people. In "The Rhetoric," Aristotle outlines what I call the "Three Legs of Persuasion." Together they enable us to fully persuade people.

  • Logos, or Logic
  • Pathos, or Passion
  • Ethos, or Ethics

   Let's start with the two that are most prevalent, Logic and Passion, and end with what I consider to be the most important, Ethics. In order to master the art of persuasion, you must have:


   Your vision must make sense to the person you are trying to get to follow you. Is your vision clear? Can it be articulated clearly? Is it simple enough to grasp? Does it make sense? Can you communicate your vision so that it is understandable and compelling? Do you communicate it regularly so that the logic of it sinks in? Finally, the strategy for getting to your destination must be logical for your followers. Does it make sense for them to follow you on the journey of your vision for your organization? A well-thought out strategy for getting to your vision is a must.


   People underestimate the principle of passion. Today more than ever, this element of being passionate about your vision is paramount to the idea of persuasion.
   As we leave the modern era and move into what sociologists are calling the "post-modern" era, people are going to be persuaded less by logic and reason than they are passion. We live in a video age that uses images and music to move people more than sense and reason. For example, think about how basketball shoes are sold today. They ads don't say, "These shoes are made from the finest rubber and leather and will sustain the shock of x amount of pounds of pressure, etc, etc." No, today shoes are sold by showing basketball players dribbling the ball to a methodical beat. Image. Passion.
   So do we throw out logic? Certainly not, but we understand that the passion we demonstrate is extremely important. Probably more important than logic and increasingly so in the years to come.
   Are you passionate about your vision? Does that come through when you speak about it? If you aren't passionate about it, then why should others be? Does it come through in the materials that you distribute to support your vision?


   This is what I believe to be the most important aspect of the three legs of persuasion. Ethics. Integrity. Character. However you want to say it, people look at you and are constantly judging your character.
   You may have tremendous skills. You may have all the logic in the world and passion to fill a sporting arena, but if your followers see a crack in your character, they will run for the hills. I am not talking about mistakes. Followers will allow for mistakes. But they will not allow for poor character.

   Where does this leave us? Hopefully you aren't dealing with the kind of issues we have seen in our political process lately, but you should be asking yourself what your character is like.
   Am I honest? Am I who I say I am? Do I do what is right? Am I responsible? Am I the same behind closed doors as I am in public? Am I a person of integrity? These are the most important questions. The way your followers answer them about you will determine to what degree they follow you. Will people follow you if your character is less than stellar? Maybe. But all other things being the same, a strong character will put you over the top.
   Logic, passion and ethics are the three legs of persuasion. Become a person with a vision that is logical and well thought out, combine that with a passionate pursuit, and you are well on your way to persuading people and achieving the goal for your organization. The key will be what kind of character you have. If you develop a fine, strong character, with high personal ethics, you will have all three legs of persuasion - and you will become an Extraordinary Leader!