“Communication is the real work of leadership,” says HBS professor Nitin Nohria, who documented the importance of persuasion. He believes effective leaders are masters of the classical elements of oratory, as outlined by Aristotle centuries ago.
“You can reach people through logos or logic, by appealing to their sense of what is rational,” he explains. “You can use pathos, appealing to their emotions, or you can make an argument based on their sense of values or ethos.” Great leaders, he notes, “spend the bulk of their time communicating, and they know how to employ all three of Aristotle’s rhetorical elements.”
Of course, knowing your audience is also essential. “Great communicators have an appreciation for positioning,” states John Kotter. “They understand the people they’re trying to reach and what they can and can’t hear. They send their message in through an open door rather than trying to push it through a wall.”
Badaracco believes part of knowing your audience is the ability to listen. “Communication can’t always follow the top-down model,” he says. “With the fluidity of information in business today, leaders need to be masterful listeners; they need to be able to receive as well as send.”
David Thomas stresses the importance of “multimodality” in communication. “What you say is only the beginning,” he states. “Your behavior, your actions, and your decisions are also ways of communicating, and leaders have to learn how to create a consistent message through all of these. It’s been said many times, but leaders lead by example.”
For Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a key question is whether a leader’s personal passion matches his or her aspirations. “There are so many false starts, unexpected obstacles, and surprising turns along the path to change.
Daily work often drains energy needed for change,” she says. “Leaders must pick causes they won’t abandon easily, remain committed despite setbacks, and communicate their big ideas over and over again in every encounter.”