When I was building my organization, I had a lot of young people working for me who had tremendous potential but were not yet seasoned.
Occasionally, some would come to me with a tale of woe, such as
- how tough the market is, or
- how difficult the project is, or
- how rough things are going
…and would I please
- amend their financial plan, or
- allow them to renege on their goals, or
- somehow make things easier for them by lowering the bar.
While I am always happy to be a sounding board, and my full resources of advice and counsel are always there in my role as mentor, I have never been comfortable lowering the performance expectation bar.
Our mortgage holders have a decided preference for cash over tales of woe, our vendors are more interested in timely payment than in stories about how tough the market, and our customers expect us to deliver the quality housing we promise no matter how rough things are.
One day I found this quote from legendary football coach Lou Holtz: “Don’t tell me how rocky the sea is, just bring the darn ship in.”
In 350 B.C., in “On Rhetoric,” Aristotle described three categories of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos.
Ethos, Greek for character, refers to making an appeal based on the character (or credibility) of the speaker. We are more open to the ideas of people we like, people we respect, people we consider to be trustworthy. Ethos also refers to making an argument based on ethics.
Pathos, Greek for suffering or experience, means persuading by appealing to the emotions, the use of vivid language and sensation-loaded words and images that stir our feelings and move our hearts, creating sympathy or empathy, engaging our imagination or causing the listener to identify with the speaker’s point of view. The use of story with sensory detail is a common way to make an idea seem real and present in the listener’s mind.
Logos, Greek for word, is the Mr. Spock approach–an appeal to reason and logic. It refers to clarity of the argument, the weight of the supporting evidence, the use of facts and statistics.
I find that many people subscribe to some version of the “big secret” theory of life, also known by its variants the “lottery” theory and “when my ship comes in.”
The big secret theory is that there is some special talisman, some powerful hidden mystery that once unraveled holds the key to life. Some key that once possessed unlocks a cornucopia of limitless abundance. Most might deny they think this way, but if you observe people living their lives or listen to them for any extended time, their actions (or inactions) usually belie their words.
This big secret theory of life is magical thinking, and it is patent nonsense. It is worse than useless because it diverts people’s attention and efforts, distracts them from taking meaningful actions to propel their lives forward to their greatest potential. Instead it dissipates their energy and focus while they chase mythical pots of gold at the end of ever-distant rainbows.