by Chris Jarrett
Perhaps no word elicits stronger aspirations and emotions in our profession than “leadership.” The most basic understanding is that a leader is something we ought to be, and many assume they are leading by filling the position of “leader.” A better understanding will also associate a connection between knowing and doing in their minds. It can lead to identifying the three attributes and three competencies of the Army Leadership Requirements Model, which builds the understanding that leaders aren’t defined by position but by action. The most doctrine-savvy students might even correctly identify all twenty-seven leader requirements, but very few could recall the fifty-two components that define each competency. This model is comprehensive and well structured but lacks utility for an aspirant leader consistently asking themselves, “Am I leading well?” To objectify the concept, we attempt to quantify leadership by subcomponents, when in fact, leadership is an activity best measured by quality, not quantity.
Leadership is an Activity, Not a Position
Rightfully, ADP 6-22 describes leadership as “the activity of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.” Multiple options exist to compel someone to accomplish the mission. Coercion can achieve compliance through threats or UCMJ, or individuals may be publicly humiliated for undesired behavior. Alternatively, a “leader” can favor a transactional approach, where followers can earn benefits or avoid burdens by exchanging compliance. Either of these approaches may accomplish a mission, but neither substantiate the activity of leadership.
A third option, illustrated in ADP 6-22’s definition, is to influence people to follow. As Eisenhower stated, “leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Simply put, leadership is the act of persuasion, absent coercion or quid pro quo.
Fortunately, there exists a time-tested model for approaching the persuasive art of leadership. Aristotle’s Rhetoric provides a framework for building pisties (trust and confidence) that has withstood two thousand years of history. Building this pisties relies on three core imperatives: ethos – the characteristics of the aspirant leader, logos – the strength or validity of the argument itself, and pathos – the personal and emotional connection between the aspirant leader and the audience. These imperatives necessitate the daily questions of “Am I the right messenger?”, “Is this the right message?”, and “Does this message correctly understand and connect with this organization?”
Ethos comprises the attributes, competence, and character of the person seeking to lead. Aristotle proposed that one’s ethos could be evaluated by three core questions: Does the aspirant leader have good sense, good morals, and good will? Good sense is the expectation of a rational and reasonable mind. Is this person someone who exhibits a calm demeanor governed by objectivity? Good morals is a similar expectation, but from a moral and ethical lens. And lastly, Can the organization expect this person to do the right thing, even when unobserved? Good will is the assessment of whether the person has the organization or individual’s best interest at heart.
It is possible to both have good sense and good morals, but without these directed toward the organization, the aspirant leader may still twist “leadership” to self-serving ends. The commander who is both technically competent and morally upstanding still lacks ethos if these two qualities exist for the sake of an evaluation and not the organization’s well-being. No one follows the know-it-all who has the logically sound solution but only shares for the sake of his own reputation and not the unit’s. The complaint is not against their intelligence, but their ability to maintain credibility (ethos) while communicating the soundness of their perspective.
It is notable that all three of these questions are rooted in expectations the audience has of a leader, not in self-judged criteria. Ethos exists in the minds of followers, not solely in the actions and qualifications of the leader. The “perfect” leader could arrive, and it is worth naught if the organization does not come to expect these three qualities. Ethos, like all the tenets, must be communicated. Ultimately, the leader must ask themselves: “Am I the right messenger? Am I communicating to my organization the right competencies (good sense), character (good morals), and commitment to their interests (good will)?” If not, the leader must improve these credibility measures in themselves with help from trusted leaders, peers, and wise members of the organization.
Logos, is the rational argument by which a person leads – the “logic”. A leader cannot justify a clearly advantageous decision if the underlying logic is flawed. This tenet exists independent of the character and credibility of the leader as described above. Logos is necessary to convince an organization to follow, but it is not sufficient. A person with poor credibility may still produce a logically sound decision, and an exceptional character may still produce a poor one, but the efficacy of a leader depends on both. You can likely identify several people who have great credibility (ethos) in your unit, but who rely on charm or personality to maintain it, rather than their decision making abilities, tactical knowledge, or critical thinking skills.
Logos is thoughtfully integrated into Army Doctrine. ATP 2-33.4 Intelligence Analysis illustrates logos is achieved by either deductive, inductive, or abductive reasoning with corresponding levels of objective certainty. Despite our desire for objectivity, leadership most often requires the latter two forms of less-certain reasoning. Organizations and individuals live in an uncertain world with incomplete information and contestable conclusions. This leaves convincing an organization how to move forward in uncertainty to the practice of leadership.
The logic of the leader is separate yet interdependent with their competencies in the ethos imperative. Persuasion in leadership cannot be based upon the ethos of the leader him/herself – using authority to substantiate an argument creates toxic conditions that are dependent on a sole individual’s credibility and stifles the safeguards of objectivity. The leader here must ask themselves “Is this the right message or course of action? Are my conclusions based on rational thought, rather than an allegiance to my own ego, authority, or reputation?” To avoid pitfalls, the leader must use structured thinking and accountability to maintain intellectual integrity. ATP 2-33.4 offers an excellent model to approach this work.
Pathos is the most salient of the imperatives and is an engagement with an individual’s existing values, hopes, and emotions. As the adage goes, “People won’t remember what you said, they’ll remember how you made them feel.” Aristotle identified seven dualities of emotional responses in an audience, but the success of this imperative lies in contextualizing the activity of leadership to the experience of the led. In practice, this is achieved through storytelling, metaphors, and the emotional intelligence of the leader. The purpose of pathos is not simply to appeal to an individual’s emotions as a manipulative tool, but to invoke the existing experiences and values of the individual to the necessary action.
Why should the individual feel compelled to follow you? A key clue to this is the modern derivative of pathos: empathy. The ability to understand and share the feelings of your audience is key to their willingness to follow, but it is worthless if not communicated. Technically, one could feel full empathy with an individual’s frustration, but competing loyalties may influence him or her to refrain from fully communicating if they share the same feelings. In such a case, pathos has not been achieved, because the empathy has not been communicated to the individual’s experience. The aspiring leader must ask themselves “Do I understand my organization? Have I accurately assessed their values, hopes, and frustrations? Am I framing this decision in their experience?” If not, the leader has to make an honest and deliberate assessment of the emotions of their organization, empathize with their position and check their own perspective with accountability from trusted partners & friends. Even if your audience’s perspective is flawed or incomplete, you must understand and empathize with that perspective to find an effective way to reach them.
Some may argue that these persuasive tactics are methods of manipulation – or at best insincere. The understanding of how an organization responds to ethos, logos, and pathos can be used as a perverse tool to achieve ultimately selfish gains. This argument is as old as Aristotle’s Rhetoric and was voiced by Plato, his mentor. Persuasion can be twisted and manipulative. History is filled with evils of those who understood the emotional appeals and authoritative measures necessary to achieve their selfish or misguided ends.
Persuasion can be turned to manipulation, but this is evidence that an accurate understanding of these imperatives is necessary for good leadership. It is because these imperatives can be misused that a right understanding is necessary to not only govern yourself, but also to judge the leadership of others. Furthermore, these imperatives make the practice of leadership approachable for anyone. Leadership is not reserved for the innately talented or charismatic. It can be learned and practiced. There are a host of implications for leader development programs that can then orient on these three imperatives to improve the exercise of leadership in your organization.
The Army’s leadership model of categories, competencies, and requirements is a well-developed structure to thoroughly study the activity of leadership but can conflate quantity of characteristics with quality of leadership. It also lacks utility for consistent self-evaluation. Ultimately, the leader needs to know if their actions inspire their organization to do something because they want to do it. The key question for an aspiring leader is then, “How do I persuade my organization to follow?” Rather than self-inventorying the competencies and attributes of the Army’s leadership model, the aspiring leader must assess their execution of the three imperatives of ethos, logos, pathos. Like a three-legged stool, these imperatives work together to create the trust and confidence in an organization necessary for authentic leadership. The leader must therefore evaluate themselves by asking: “Am I credible in knowledge, morals, and goodwill?”, “Are my choices logically sound?”, and “Am I connecting with where my organization is coming from?” If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, there is a ready-made model for improvement.
Chris Jarrett is a United States Army Infantry Captain with ten years of service. He is currently serving as a Small Group Instructor at the Maneuver Captains Career Course at Fort Benning, GA.