The leadership Triangle

by Joe Ross and Michael Rickwood — September 9, 2019

There is one key objective at the heart of all presenting. Persuading the human mind.

Today there is a war on for attention and space, with the human mind as object of the conquest. In 2019, emotions rule the stage and calm reasoned logic seems to have gone out of fashion. Individually and collectively, most of us are getting our information from sound bites, news summaries, and short burst headlines provided by our iPhone feed; while opinions change from one glance at the screen to the next.

In this modern landscape, effective presentations and the art of the pitch are more important than ever. To stand out from the noise, in brief 3 minutes or less bursts, is the day’s challenge. Effective, memorable and entertaining have become the new keywords; and the active effort to do this well means positively that we are getting better at communication with each other in business and other arenas. By improving communication skills; things are getting shorter, clearer, more creative and somehow easier to contextualize. Quite a contrast to the once overly long and boring team meetings which have gotten a drastic time-cut in our offices for one!

On the flip side, however, the art of the pitch brings some negatives with it. We drown in messages delivered online through hyper-looped highways directly into the windows of our souls, and worse, every presentation ever given now goes on to YouTube and spreads through social media like an unwelcome summer cold.

In 2019, we are presented with a new paradigm. As things get flashier and nosier and we continue to focus on the how—continuing to make presentations shorter and zippier and catchier—are we forgetting about the what? And more importantly the why?

My experience of coaching TED talks has often led me to mixed feelings about these events. On the one hand, they are a great educational resource and inspirational platform for new leaders to get visibility. On the other they risk being an empty window of self-promotion.

To get to the heart of meaningful content, the why, we can look back to the Greeks.

And the motivational compass that asks: What kind of a world do I want to live in anyway?

Ethos Pathos Logos Triangle

In ancient Greece, the principle of the persuasive argument by Aristotle was based on 3 key pillars: Ethos, Logos, and Pathos. Since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, the focus in many industries swung to logos: with fact-based and structure being the focused pillar to build upon. Top down, left brain, siloed and reductionist in approach led to a scientific lab like communication style based upon informative data that could be reproduced easily and widely by using primitive means. Today, in the 21st century, with all our high-tech tools, always on multimedia screens, the shift is undeniably towards pathos: the emotional and creative pillar. This has been very welcome but sometimes communication that is too focused only on pathos leaves us with pretty and passionate presentations yet empty and directionless messaging. Ethos has remained present throughout all eras, particularly in the most inspiring of speeches. Leadership, vision and shared experience lighting the way for future generations.

A balance of all 3 was the original blueprint some three thousand years ago. But it appears Ethos is under threat in certain political spheres, and this can only trickle down to the wider world of business and education.

In 2019 we are on a wire. People are polarized, leaders are struggling. Villains in certain places prevail with pathos taking easy, below the belt shots, selling something that they cannot deliver. The compass is spinning, confused. People are not always constant or rooted like trees, many can shift like tectonic plates with many men and women as elastic as a waistline, gorging on a rubbish pathos laden diet. Sure, it might make you feel good for an instant, but the digestion is horribly unpleasant and ultimately harmful to the health of society writ large.

However, history has shown us that working from an ethical center creates success, unites people and with united people comes stability and prosperity within the very largest groups or the smallest.

We have lost our balance. By swinging from overly logos centered communication to overly pathos centered communication; our Ethos, our WHY of being is endangered.

We recall a quote dating the French Revolution: “With great power, comes great responsibility” the adage is never truer than today. Whether you’re the leader of a small team in a firm or presiding over a giant corporation, what you say will influence the day, week, month and eventually even the lives of the people that you are addressing.

Ethics are about staying true to message, about meaning, and about vision; it’s about the why. From this ground you can build effective and persuasive communication that is solidly grounded while employing the other arts of Logos and Pathos.

As every great leader knows, it’s all about balance.