Pillars of leadership are timeless

Last year my husband and I enrolled in a philosophy course at St. Petersburg College. Though there was quite an age gap between our classmates and us. It was a captivating and most enjoyable experience.

Of course we studied Aristotle, and by default Plato. Both of these ancients have a lot to teach us about the qualities of good leaders. Actually I believe they can introduce us to all we need to know about the basic pillars of true leadership.

Aristotle holds to three pillars, and the first is Ethos. A successful leader’s authority emanates from his or her character. The leader’s character includes deep trustworthiness, credibility, and constancy of support for followers. It is formed by overcoming ignorance and becoming wise (leaving Plato’s cave as it were). This leader walks her talk, leading by example and mentoring others in the art. These traits can’t be faked. Humans have pretty good sleaze detectors. We are drawn to integrity and feel safe with an ethical leader—safe enough to take risks, to speak our truth, to bring our creativity to work with us.

A congruent voice from another classic — if more contemporary – teacher appears on page 251 in Sarah Bakewell’s “A Life of Montaigne”: “And by the same kind of twist that made the lack of door locks a good security feature, Montaigne’s rough honesty proved a formidable diplomatic talent…Even when dealing with the most powerful princes in the land — perhaps especially then — he looked them straight in the face. “I frankly tell them my limits.” His openness made other people open up as well; it drew them out, he said, like wine and love.”

Aristotle’s second pillar is Pathos. This is the passion that makes the leader come alive and inspire others to be better followers, to want to improve continuously. The leader who can move the heart as well as the mind will bond with followers — and everyone involved will have more fun. R.I.P dear Bill Vernal who taught us all that no one cares what you know ’til they know that you care.

Logos. This pillar has to do with content — of the leader’s thoughts and expressions. Is it true; is it logical, does it make sense? Is communication organized so that we can digest the content in a useful way? Logic isn’t everything, but it clearly is a good third of everything in the making of the kind of leadership we all yearn for.

You can easily see why Aristotle gave these three pillars equal importance. If a boss is extremely reasonable and logical, but lacks the Pathos, we don’t feel he gives a hoot about us; that intimate bond is missing and we may leave the team in search of a more human connection in our work life.

These pillars of leadership are timeless and inspire us to become good followers and better contributors. It doesn’t matter if the three traits are packaged in an eight-year old on the playground, the CEO of our organization, or a political leader. We know great leadership when it is in front of us.

In Aristotle’s “ethics” he encouraged that we deliver an act to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive and in the right way.

Furthermore, “That is not for everyone nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble.”

Well, I don’t think “easy” is particularly attractive. If it were, we’d all be playing miniature golf.

Jo Gorissen is a certified transition coach and a former Milwaukee area resident. Her web site is www.coachingconbrio.com and she can be reached at (414) 305-3459.

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