The Heart of Leadership

Terry Pearce, author of Leading Out Loud, one of my favorite books on leadership and presentation skills, defines leadership as “seeing what is needed (vision) and inspiring others to take action to effect change”.

In order to convince others to change, leaders need to appeal to people’s heads and their hearts. You can’t just give them data, facts, logic, and return on investment. The most logical argument won’t persuade people unless you’ve also connected with them on an emotional level.

In fact, emotions play an even more powerful role in human decision making than facts, numbers, and a rational assessment of a proposal’s benefits.
Here’s four reasons why:

1. Emotion-evoking presentations—such as gripping stories—are more interesting and memorable than statistics and facts.

2. Emotion tends to prompt behavioral changes more quickly than logical appeals do.

3. Responding emotionally requires less effort than logically weighing the pros and cons of a presentation.

4. Emotion-arousing arguments distract people from noticing the speaker’s intention to persuade.

In the most successful persuasive situations, people first accept the presenter’s proposal unconsciously, based on their emotional response. Then they justify their decision based on a logical assessment of the facts.

The language you choose and the way you compose your argument exert a major impact on listeners’ emotions. The following language tools will help to reach people on an emotional level:

Vivid descriptions
Words that paint evocative images in people’s minds—deeply tap into listeners’ emotions. Describe it the way you would describe a powerful scene in one of your favorite movies.

A metaphor is an imaginative way of describing something as something else, for example, “Time is money.” Organizing metaphors are overarching worldviews that shape a person’s everyday actions; for instance, “Business is war.”
Here are 3 ways to change someone’s worldview:

1. Identify a compelling replacement metaphor; for example, “business as partnership.” This metaphor focuses a business’s efforts on building win-win relationships with key stakeholders, rather than on defeating competitors.

2. Highlight the weaknesses of your audience’s worldview using their metaphor. For example, “By focusing on the our competitors instead of customer support, we’ve allowed our customer-satisfaction levels to fall.”

3. Provide examples of other companies that have achieved success using your replacement metaphor, as in “Our competitor’s sales have increased 18% since they appointed account managers to collaborate with the sales team.”

Replacing someone’s organizing metaphor is never easy—people cling tightly to their worldviews. But by providing powerful evidence of the flaws in an existing metaphor and the veracity of the new one, you can persuade others to at least consider a different outlook.

Analogies—comparisons that include the words “like” or “as”—enable you to relate a new idea to one that’s already familiar to your audience. Analogies help people understand and therefore accept a new idea. Analogies also engender feelings of familiarity, which many people find reassuring.

Incongruous analogies and those that use humor are all the more memorable. For example, when Benjamin Franklin once said, “Fish and visitors start to smell in three days,” he delivered a vivid message of why people tire of visitors who outstay their welcome.

Stories also help make presentations come alive and drive messages home. They can accomplish the following:
– Grab listeners’ attention with riveting plots and characters audiences can relate to
– Simplify complex ideas and make them concrete
– Evoke powerful emotions among listeners
– Stay in your audience’s mind long after the facts have been forgotten

So remember: use data, facts, and logic to win their heads; but it’s even more important that you connect with your audience’s emotions and win their hearts.

(Adapted from
Harvard ManageMentor’s , a great online learning resource for managers)