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The Art of Influence

Leadership expert and best-selling author John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.”  You may or may not agree with this complete statement, but there is no question about whether a key component to leadership is influence.  It is.

Today, we’re going to look at the art of influence by focusing on persuasion. The ideas presented here go all the way back to the teachings of Aristotle.  He was a master in the art of persuasion.  He outlined his thinking in his work, Rhetoric, where he identifies the three most important factors for persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos.


Ethos is a Greek word meaning character.  The first factor of persuasion is related to who you are as a person. If you are respectful and honest, people will be more likely to follow you because of your character. Your character convinces the follower that you are someone who is worth listening to and can be trusted for advice.


Pathos is concerned with persuading people by appealing to their emotions. The fact is, human beings are emotional creatures and most decisions are emotionally based. Pathos allows you to tie into emotional triggers that will capture a person’s attention and enlist their support.  But be careful, because this form of persuasion can be easily abused.  In which case you will lose all credibility as a leader.


Logos persuades people by appealing to their intellect. This was Aristotle’s favorite and his forte’, but not everyone reacts on a rational level. Many of us in the water treatment industry like to think of ourselves as logical and rational decision makers.  Studies consistently show that a vast majority of the decisions we all make are more based on emotion than logic.  Doe this mean we should ignore logic when trying to persuade others?  Not at all.  We have a need to use logic to justify our emotional decisions.

Of the three factors, your character (ethos) must always come first. You can then make an emotional appeal (pathos) and back your arguments up with logic (logos). When you are preparing for persuasive communication with your staff, it is important to keep this principle in mind.

Whether you are writing an email, drafting a formal memo or preparing a talk to give at a staff meeting, your communication will be more effective, more persuasive, and ultimately have greater influence when you focus on these three principles.

American Water College provides online and onsite technical and management training for water and wastewater professionals. Click on the link for more information about our Effective Utility Management training program.  Or check out our Classroom Training Schedule for dates and locations of our upcoming events.  We also have a complete training library available to your organization.  Click here  or call us at (661) 874-1655 to find out how you can gain access to this industry specific training for your utility.