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DEFINING PERSUASIVE COMMUNICATION IN LEADERSHIP

Leaders are preeminent communicators (Bennis and Nanus, 1985). They are symbol users, whether it is words, songs, artifacts, speech, or something else. Leaders communicate meaning. Inner leaders make use of a specific kind of communication: persuasion. Mostly, they set and then communicate work community requirements via persuasion, not orders, instructions, or policy statements. Leadership by command is an outdated conception of the leader’s task. The days when any leader could order employees to do the work and it got done are over if, indeed, this ever was the case. In fact, leadership based on and through the authority held by the incumbent is not leadership at all. It describes a management, not a leadership, concept. The interior world of the corporation today is one of interdependence, not dependence; of uncertainty, not order; of negotiation, not fiat; of persuasion, not command. This kind of a world demands leaders, not managers. And leadership success demands leaders who can persuade others, who can influence them to act and sway their opinions without resorting to traditional authoritarian force or compulsion (Gareau,1999).

Much more effective in transferring standards and values is the technique of persuasion by logical argument. Leaders set the values context of the work community and convince stakeholders to accept the values as their own (Klenke, 1996). In doing this, they appeal to stakeholders at their inner, spiritual level. They couch desired values in task terms or in people terms or in a balance of each. In either case, the vision defining the work community and the attitudes about relationships with coworkers held in common defines the core of shared values that makes leadership possible.

The key is to persuade followers to follow the leader’s lead. Gardner (1990) sees leadership as simply a process of persuasion and example. Through their communications skills leaders cause work-community action that is in accord with their purposes and, eventually, the shared purposes of all. This definition, common to many theorists, implies a developmental role and makes the process explicitly one of communicating to persuade (see also Bedell, 2001; Brumback, 1999; Gareau, 1999; Throgmorton, Mandelbaum, and Garcia, 2000).

The Leadership Task of Persuasion

Persuasive communication implies an interaction between leader and follower that involves engaging the minds of both. Persuasion, as a form of communication, is different from other forms. It implies equality, caring, and respect for the ideas and logic of those to be persuaded. Leaders in the middle establish and communicate standards via persuasion. Persuasion is much more effective in conveying standards and values given contemporary culture. It relies on the relatively bias-free use of logical argument. Inner leaders set work-community standards, teach them, and live them; and then they persuade others to live them by the example of their word and deed.

Persuasion is a common technique inner leaders use. It is an aspect of the leader’s capacity to use power, the intent of which is to convince others to do what the leader wants them to do. Persuasion is a generic name for a variety of communications skills and techniques that have as their purpose altering another person or group to the leader’s point of view. Persuasive communication may be directed to get followers to know something the leader wants them to know. Or it may provoke desired follower behavior or change followers’ attitudes or values. This technique of inner leadership relies on another value system—rational discussion—and another range of resources—ideas, values, and ideology—than those mentioned to this point.

The act of leading in the middle of the corporation involves the leader in communication to change the values, the knowledge base, the logic, and thus the behavior of stakeholders to conform to the leader’s vision objectives. Sharing that vision is accomplished in numerous contacts with work-community members as a group and in both formal and informal individual contacts with them. The intent of these multiple communications is to get followers to always act authentically within the constraints of group values.

Inner leaders practice persuasive communications techniques toward every stakeholder. They use persuasion upward toward their bosses, downward toward their subordinates, and laterally toward their peers, nondirect-line colleagues, customers, advisors, and other experts whether inside the corporation or not (Bedell, 2001). In the corporate interior perhaps more than in any relationship in which inner leaders participate, the need for sensitive persuasion to build collaborative relations is acute. The targets of the inner leader’s persuasive communications may also be other inner leaders who are motivated by many of the same values yet seek similar goals. Most often these others are not obligated to cooperate; they will do so only if they receive cooperation in facilitating their own goals. That is, they have to be convinced that doing it the leader’s way is also good for them.

In a sense, all interior interpersonal relationships are situations in which persuasion is the preferred communication technique. Inner leaders are constantly moving from a guiding position to a follower one and vice versa. At times they persuade others to do something they want them to do—to follow orders, to get them something, to laugh at their jokes, or to understand and respect their ideas and values. At other times they are persuaded to behave as a stakeholder desires them to. The operative aspect of the process of persuasion is in the personal relationship between one leader and one follower reiterated in a series of one-on-one relationships throughout the work community. Communicating to persuade is central to any interaction between coequal, independent, and interdependent people. It is a cornerstone of inner leadership behavior as practiced throughout history.


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