Leadership — From discourse to dialogue
French high school students study Aristotle’s Rhetoric in philosophy classes, but not many have read it since their school days! Sadly, people in the business world don’t often take the time to refer to it. But at Toguna and Angie, we would say that anyone responsible for transforming their company (leaders) would do well to keep a copy handy in their office, alongside their computer.
“Whatever for?” you might ask.
Parce qu’ils devront convaincre leurs équipes de la nécessaire – non, pardon, de l’indispensable – transformation de leur entreprise et du bien-fondé de la stratégie menée.
Because they will have to convince their teams of the necessary – or rather the essential – transformation of their company and justify the strategy implemented.
Because to do that, they will have to master the art of discourse.
Because reading Aristotle will show them the necessity of:
- using their credibility, demonstrating authenticity (ethos);
- relying on ethical and meaningfully formulated arguments (logos);
- using emotion, showing empathy (pathos, which they sometimes if not frequently lack).
But at Toguna and Angie, we are no less sure that convincing is not enough. Or, at least, it is no longer enough. An open attitude to dialogue is indispensable. From the etymology of the word “dialogue” (dia logos: “through the word”), let’s focus particularly on the first part: “through”. Accepting confrontation and conflict to unravel ideas and, through a time-consuming process, achieve an acceptable and sustainable solution.
Easier said than done in companies constrained by the pressure of short-term results? Probably. And yet, this is what the leaders who have placed their trust in us do to help them open and facilitate spaces for dialogue.
And this is what they do with us to do it:
- Open spaces for building consensus, involving an acceptance of contradiction.
- Dare to say “I” when giving opinions and taking decisions, rather than a consensual and informal “we” – they allow their personality to show through and form part of the embodiment.
- Tell stories: we humans are guided by stories (if you’re not convinced, check out Sapiens by Harari, or for the less courageous among you, try Nancy Huston’s The Storytelling Species – it’s all there, but more concisely than in Sapiens).
- Express themselves in a simple and concrete way and, by extension, not fall into the trap of “corporate bullshit” by systematically avoiding the hollow language and corporate jargon which plague internal communications.
- Decide as a result of dialogue, and take the necessary decisions without trying to find a woolly consensus; productive dialogue must be energetic and lively.
Under these conditions, leaders will regain all or part of their credibility and their ability to engage. It’s a whole programme! We may not have the magic potion… but we can certainly help you.