Leadership strategies change with the times. In my career, I’ve experienced everything from authoritarian, my-way-or-the-highway management to leaders who seek broad consensus on even the smallest of decisions.
In 2015, however, people crave leaders who exhibit humanity, those who can relate to workers as individuals with their own needs and priorities. They also prefer leaders who possess a vision for what might be – those who imagine how things could be done, rather than limiting their thinking by framing decisions in the context of what they already know or what has always been done. And people respect leaders who can clearly and logically convey why choices are made to enable company progress.
If this sounds like a new-fangled management philosophy, quite the opposite is true. The Greeks referred to these essential qualities as “ethos,” “pathos,” and “logos.” And it’s just these attributes that create trusted leaders.
Feel strongly, think big
Let’s consider each quality.
In English, the word ethos translates to “empathy.” Leaders who exemplify ethos have the insight and motivation to understand the perspectives of those they work for and with. They look beyond the needs of their own companies and focus on their customers – and even their customers’ customers.
For example, when companies experience great change – in their products, workforce, or markets – people tend to become anxious. Think about your most recent experience with a software upgrade, a layoff, or a reorganization. Stressful, right? But leaders who empathize can appreciate the circumstances, motives, and feelings of others. This skill allows them to make choices and create a work environment that is more likely to engage their personnel.
Pathos is a quality that allows leaders to consider what is possible or what might be achieved if teams of people can move forward together. Often people with this characteristic excel at pushing boundaries, thinking innovatively, and reimagining how things work. Employees are excited to be part of a team that focuses on the art of the possible, happy to come to work each day and see what the enterprise will do next.
Of course, how far a leader can succeed with pathos depends on his or her past success. For example, Elon Musk, who reimagined a payments system through PayPal, electric car sales through Tesla Motors, and space exploration with SpaceX, might generate more trust with his brand of pathos than the average executive.
Logos refers to logic, the reasons why enterprises do the things they do. Too often employees are expected to execute company orders without any explanation of why choices are made. Yet people trust leaders who make it a priority to explain the “why” of their business decisions.
In a memorable TED talk, I heard author Simon Sinek explain this principle. He refers to a golden circle of communications, with “why” in the smallest center ring, “how” in the larger middle ring, and “what” in the largest outside ring. Most people focus on the outer ring, describing “what” it is they do. A smaller, more persuasive group of people talks about “how” the company does things. The most trusted and inspirational speakers convey “why” they do things, connecting what they do with their purpose and mission.
People trust leaders who convey the “why” information. As Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it…. If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe. Leaders hold a position of power or authority but those who lead inspire us. It’s those who start with ‘why’ that have the ability to inspire those around them.’”
While traveling to make a donation to a charitable group in South Africa, I once met a 15-year old girl. After we had presented our check, the girl commented that it seemed I had done well in my career. She then made the statement, “Simon, as you rise, so must you lift.” Her words made me stop and think how well I was “paying it forward,” and they also provided a true lesson in humility for me, courtesy of a South African teenager.
As leaders, we must all strive to lift our teams, our enterprises, and our societies. We must strive to see everything through our customers’ eyes, taking the leaps necessary to meet unmet (and sometimes unrecognized) needs. This is what 21st-century employees expect from their leaders. Does your leadership style create trust? Are ethos, pathos, and logos reflected in your company? The answers to these questions can help you meet the needs of your people while benefiting your entire organization.
Simon Paris, president of Industry Cloud at SAP
Connect with me on Twitter: @SimonMParis
images by Creative Commons: