Aristotle’s Tips for Management

Aristotle’s Tips for Management

April 4, 2016

Did you study Greek Philosophy in school or college? If so, maybe you didn’t think it was something that had much relevance to your current life, or in particular, to how you manage your team or sell your products or services. But I wanted to share a bit of his work that I have found useful in shaping my own thoughts and behavior. Aristotle was a master of rhetoric. It’s not a subject we talk about much these days, although it is as important and central to social, civic and business life as ever. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion through either written or spoken language. So every political candidate, advertiser, motivator, spouse or parent (and every one else) is using rhetorical means to persuade someone else to a point of view. And you are using rhetoric every day too.


In Aristotle’s lexicon there are three essential components to rhetorical effectiveness: Ethos, Pathos and Logos. The closest translations are, roughly: Moral, Emotional and Logical. So, in order to be effective in persuading anyone to your point of view, you need first to have standing with them as someone who they see as credible — that is ethos at its most basic level. But it doesn’t mean just that one thing, it means many things. If you are a business owner, you may have that standing by virtue of simply being the boss. But you can deepen the initial credibility you have with your staff by learning to speak in ways that are familiar and comfortable to them.  We are more open to the thoughts of someone we believe understand us and with whom we share common language and idiom. So take some time to consciously learn how your employees speak to each other, and it may reveal something about how you can gain a stronger footing in Ethos with them. The deeper point about ethos is that it provides an explanation for why people don’t trust those they perceive as hypocrites. So you gain ethos with your colleagues, employees and community by “walking the walk”. That’s not about rhetoric alone — it’s about your humanity.

The second component of powerful persuasiveness, pathos, is about emotional connection. Stories are the most powerful conveyor of emotion. For those of us crippled with overly abstract thought processes (like me), it can be challenging to reframe your communication in narratives. But it’s worth it. Package your message as a story, or at least, precede your message with a story. Telling stories is an age-old,  primitive and integral, human phenomenon. We are the only species (as far as we know) that lives its lives through narratives. We think of our own lives as stories and we learn about others through their stories. If you want to be a strong leader, you must master the art of story-telling. And that is creating pathos.

Finally, logos. As a leader, you can always fall back on a command control model of management. Just give orders, and people will follow. Right? Well, sort of. The problem is, it will only get people doing what you tell them, not doing what needs to be done. A more powerful approach is to provide your team with the logical structure underlying what you are requesting. When people know the why they can more effectively take the action. It is also a sign of respect when you provide your team, regardless of their seniority (or lack of it), with the reasoning you used to get to your decision. They are logical creatures just like you. And while you can manipulate with ethos and pathos, only when logos is included are you truly empowering and including.

So next time you need to hold a team meeting, or coach an employee, or set-off in a new strategic initiative, embrace the old, Greek philosopher’s model and see how powerful it can be. Be like Aristotle!

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