“Tell me: How will Pathos improve our R.O.I.?”


Didier Marlier

April 20, 2012

From Disruption to Engagement

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This is the friendly “punch in the stomach” I received one day from one of my favorite C.E.O. and client. I can not think of a leader who wouldn’t wonder, each day, how she could improve the level of motivation and engagement of her troops. We all want it. We all know that motivation is increasingly critical in a fast changing and complex environment. But, for many of us, although we intuitively know that emotions (Pathos) are linked to motivation in a way or another, their use in a professional environment still remains a somewhat “esoteric” notion. Here is my attempt to clarify what this emotional agenda is about, why it is critical and how to work with it.

Why is Pathos fundamental in business?

  • As Prof. Antonio Damasio demonstrates through a simple example (see https://enablersnetwork.com/2012/why-somatic-markers-are-critical-to-a-business-leader/), rationale is not enough if we wish to move our people “from intention to action”. If having a coherent and compelling motive is needed in order to get the “intellectual buy-in” (in the short clip, one can safely assume that the patient was rationally convinced that going for lunch was the right thing to do), it is not sufficient to move us to action. Damasio explains that it is only when we can “engraft” an emotion over the rational decision that we will implement our decision. At the moment of engaging our people into a strategy shift, a reorganization, a post acquisition integration or any other change, leaders need to work both ate the “Logos” (intellectual) and “Pathos” (emotional) levels if they wish to create mobilization.
  • Another important aspect of Pathos is that it is fundamental in creating the safe space (called “Trust” by Lencioni ) which will permit outstanding business results. Marcial Losada (https://enablersnetwork.com/2009/marcial-losada-explains-his-research-for-our-blog-readers/) found something very similar in his laboratory observation of senior leadership teams: appropriate behaviours were the only thing that would enable the creation of what he calls a “flourishing space”, an atmosphere which will unleash creativity, energy, focus and ultimately the right strategic decisions for a team. Go back and consider your own team meetings: are they a necessary evil or are they a strategic moment which everyone is longing for, as a truly energizing, revitalizing moment for the team members?  Pathos is the condition we, leaders, need to create in order to get our people to do and be their best.
  • Linked to Pathos is the theme of Authenticity. This is one of the main drivers of the “Generation Y”. But it is equally important to all of us. A lack of authenticity will immediately give birth to cynicism and negative stories in the organization. And we all know how much such downward spiral costs to our firms.
  • Pathos is one of the three essential ingredients of any true and sustainable engagement (see our book Engaging Leadership). A well crafted rationale (Logos), with impeccable behaviours (Ethos) will merely lead to pleasant and intelligent discussions. But as soon as your team will walk out of the door, expect no changes. If Logos is the GPS to our car and Ethos the skills of the driver, Pathos is nothing less that the gas to the engine!
  • Losada and Fredrickson’s research supports the fact that one of the strongest levy to your EBITDA, R.O.I. or R.O.A. is Pathos… (http://www.unc.edu/peplab/publications/Fredrickson%20&%20Losada%202005.pdf)

This is not Pathos!

 Too often, senior leaders are misled in their understanding of what the emotional agenda is. It is not about hugging trees, being soft or relationship oriented. I have a profound respect for those of you and of my partners who, whilst remaining impressive “thinking machines”, determined to do what it takes to succeed and would never consider failing as an option, have nevertheless understood and developed an amazing capacity to lead on Pathos. The emotional agenda is not:

  • Being inappropriate: Emotional outbursts and tantrums, public disclosures which will embarrass the audience, invading others’ privacy or “vomiting our authenticity” at the wrong time, under the wrong circumstances, in an exhibitionist manner and moved by an egocentric need, have nothing to do with leading through the emotional agenda. This is as damaging a behaviour than being an emotionless leader.
  • Letting go of Logos to focus exclusively on Pathos: As we explain in our book, it is only when the three agendas are blended, that leaders can hope to create sustainable motivation.

Leading on the emotional agenda is about:

  • Being engaged: you can’t engage others if you are not engaged yourself. In a meeting with your team, being engaged means being present (and not on your bloody laptop, mobile phone or lost in side conversations) and creating conditions for your people to do and be their best (as ex-IMD faculty C. Parker used to define leadership)…
  • Being connected: a connected leader reduces the distance between his people and himself. He does not behave superior. As you hear us frequently say: “Seniority is not superiority!”. She is approachable and maintains her door open rather than hides behind a fortress of assistants.
  • Being Passionate: such leaders display a permanent interest and curiosity for their business. They are the embodiment of the company values. They permanently connect Logos, Ethos and Pathos.

How does one start to practice their Pathos?

 We, human beings, are social animals. A lot of the recent research in neurosciences tends to demonstrate that we are far from being as rational as we would like to think: Most humans are, in principle, able to have emotions (psychopaths are described by their inability to have or show emotions) and feel for themselves and others. And in time of decision making, we rarely choose the objective criteria alone… Pathos is something built-in us. It is not something we need to integrate from outside. Rather, it is something we need to learn to unleash, let out…

  • Empathy: A good way to start creating a Pathos atmosphere with your team, is to start listening and summarizing what you heard at two levels: intellectual (usually conscious and explicit to and by the speaker) and emotional (often unconscious and implicit). Listening with empathy is “listening for understanding”, it is about letting go, momentaneously, of my own mental model or opinion and seeking to put myself in the shoes of my team member. I listen without judgment.
  • Feedback: Most leaders know how to give feedback (sometimes in a damaging or punishing way, but it is still better than pretending all is nice and rosy). And in order to practice our Pathos, we need to learn to ask for, encourage feedback from our subordinates.
  • Curiosity: Practicing Pathos is also being honestly curious and respectful of dissenting or unorthodox opinions from our subordinates. This certainly does not mean agreeing with everything they say, but it suggests showing interest and respect for their engagement in thinking out of the box.
  • Low guard: Pathos driven leaders learn how not to be distant and defensive. As we all know, “It takes a very strong man or woman to show their vulnerability”. Lower your guard and the respect of your people will increase.

 I have shown this clip one year ago, so many of you know it by now… But the attitude, behaviour and mimics of Leonhard Bernstein on this short clip represent a moving image of the Pathos driven Leader.

Lots of desk work this week and two short visits in Paris and Geneva… Wish you all a nice week.



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