How to Think Like a Leader…According to Aristotle

Can you teach someone to act like a leader? Aristotle sure thought so. And, we are still using some of his ideas on leadership development today.

According to Michael Clingan, a principal with the Claymore Group LLC, Aristotle attempted to teach the common people how to be leaders. Aristotle broke leadership down into ethos, pathos and logos to gain buy-in:

  1. Ethos – being true to yourself and your values and being authentic
  2. Pathos – empathy and passion
  3. Logos – the ability to think precisely and creatively and to help others believe in what you’re saying, to gain buy in

Although it can be tough to pinpoint a concept as inherently subjective and individual as leadership development, Clingan said there are some explicit skills that can be taught in leadership development such as:

  • Understanding causality
  • Knowing how to resolve conflicts
  • How to plan effectively
  • How to gain buy in

“There’s another skill that’s embedded in there, and that is learning where you’re going to stand while you’re trying to solve a problem,” Clingan said. “This helps you to avoid putting a lot of effort into activities that don’t solve problems or don’t solve them well. All of us are in very fast-paced environments, and things are always changing. We tend to notice things and may even realize correlations, but we usually don’t say, ‘If event A happens, then event B happens, or if A happens then, it’s likely that B will happen.’

“That’s great if you’re a leader by yourself, but most leadership nowadays happens with a group of people. You need to have more rigor and process so people can poke at things without it getting emotional. Take a little bit more work on the front end to say, ‘OK, what problem are we trying to solve? And let’s make sure we understand current reality very well.’”

Clingan says that “one of the most powerful things a mentor can say when teaching a leader to think better is one word: ‘Really?’ It beats ‘I think you’re full of crap’ — it has a more positive connotation.”

Adapted from the April 2007 Issue of Chief Learning Officer.

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Sandra Schwan

Sandra Schwan

Managing Partner at Evolving Strategies LLC
Sandra is the Managing Partner of Evolving Strategies LLC, a consulting firm helping companies and people learn, adapt and perform. Sandra holds a Master of Science degree in Adult Learning and Strategic Organizational Change from Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Arkansas. Previous employers include the Corporate Executive Board, Lante Corporation, Kensington International, and Accenture where Sandra was awarded mentor of the year.

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