Leadership Blueprint: Persuade Like Aristotle

Leadership Blueprint: Cultivate Ethos, Pathos, And Logos
Summary: Character, data, and the ability to tell a story have been the crucial ingredients in being persuasive for over 2,500 years.

Cultivate Ethos, Pathos, And Logos

A basic leadership blueprint skill is learning to persuade people: your management, your peers, your direct reports, your customers, your stakeholders, your shareholders, everyone. As a leader, you must learn the fine art of persuasion. Persuasion is an essential skill. Aristotle was an influential philosopher and polymath who lived in ancient Greece over 2,500 years ago and served as Alexander the Great's teacher and mentor. He provides three quintessential elements for persuading: ethos, logos, and pathos to convince others. You need all three. Think of a three-legged stool. Your point will not stand if any of the three elements are missing, and as a result, you will likely not be able to persuade your audience.

TED talks are great examples of short persuasive talks. In her Harvard Business Review article, Carmine Gallo analyzed 500 of the most popular TED talks. Her research showed that pathos, or the emotional connection, comprised 65% of the TED talk, 25% focused on logos, and 10% centered on ethos. The emotional connection with the audience is key to persuading them to join you on a journey as you present your argument. As a TEDx organizer, I have built a speaker BootCamp that has trained 48 TEDx speakers to date. The BootCamp teaches speakers how to present their idea in a TED talk format and persuade others to embrace them. The BootCamp is based on none other than Aristotles' teachings in his work Rhetoric about ethos, logos, and pathos.

A basic storyline structure for a TED talk or, in your case, your argument, is to clearly articulate the big idea. What is the point you are trying to make, and why is it important? Next, you can use all three pillars to support the big idea, and finally, you close with a call to action. What do you want the audience to do? What action or behavioral change do you want them to take? This article discusses each ingredient and offers practical steps to help you strengthen your persuasion skills.

Leadership Blueprint: 3 Pillars To Master The Fine Art Of Persuasion


Ethos is the collection of your values and character, which must stand behind the argument you are making. "Ethos" is the Greek word for character. No matter how good your point is, it will not stand on its feet unless you have the values and the character and demonstrate them with your actions. In other words, ethos is your reputation and your character, which gives credibility to your point. As Warren Buffet said, it takes years to build and a few seconds to demolish. How can you demonstrate your ethos? Do you deliver what you promised? Do your actions provide evidence of what you are promising others to deliver? Cultivate your ethos, guard it, and deploy it to make your point heard and embraced by others. Using the example of a TED talk, the speaker needs to discuss what they actually have done that backs up their premise. In his famous talk, which garnered 66.3 million views and is the most viewed TED talk of all time about children's creativity, Sir Ken Robinson persuaded us because of the ethos he brought to the talk and the credibility.


Logos is the logic behind your premise. "Logos" is the Greek word for "reason" or "word," and the word "logic" derives from logos. Here, you will need to present quantitative and qualitative data to make your point transparent and understood. So, do you have the numbers, the facts, and the data to demonstrate your point? Can you cite similar examples and show photos or videos to illustrate your point? It goes without saying that these numbers and data must be accurate and verifiable; otherwise you are shooting yourself in the foot. In the TED talk context, I require my speakers to weave in transparent and verifiable data from credible resources to back up their points. The data can be qualitative, including stories, quotes, or narratives, as well as quantitative, such as numbers, graphs, and trends. In her famous TED talk about the secret structure of great talks, Nancy Duarte persuades us with the use of irrefutable data. She even shows us the meandering pattern of the talks given by Steve Jobs and Dr. Martin Luther King that she mapped out to present her argument. Of course, we are convinced.


The emotional intelligence behind your premise. "Pathos" is the Greek word for "passion." Here, you need to make an emotional connection with your audience. Perhaps you want to inspire them, elicit support, or incite action from them. You will need to use examples that help you build empathy for your audience so that they can feel what you would like them to feel and join you on your journey of presenting your premise and getting it embraced and approved by your audience. In a TED talk context, this is a crucial element. I advise my speakers to share relevant personal stories that illustrate their ethos and bring them closer to their audience. Logos or the logic and data can then be weaved in to further build your case. In his amazing TED Talk given as a commencement speech at Stanford, Steve Jobs used the power of story to inspire the graduating class and all of us about how to live before we die. He used three stories and got his point across. He persuades us to find what we love, to do what we believe is great work, and to never settle. He inspired us not to keep looking and to pursue our dreams against all odds and uncover the silver lining in life's difficulties, including death.


Character, data, and the ability to tell a story have been the crucial ingredients in being persuasive for over 2,500 years. As Aristotle wrote, to persuade others, you need ethos, or your character; logos, or the logic and data supporting your argument; and, importantly, pathos, or your ability to make an emotional connection with your audience about your argument. Following this simple yet powerful and tried and tested approach, you can strengthen your persuasion skills whether you are submitting a new budget, asking for a raise, or making the case for a new product pilot your organization should explore.