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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attends a news conference in Birmingham, Ala., May 9, 1963. AP Photo

  • Moran-Townsend

Sunday, January 14, 2018 1:00 am

The power behind persuasion

Study of history's most effective leaders reveals a number of common characteristics

Marilyn Moran-Townsend

I am very worried about the lessons today's leaders are teaching the next generation. It may seem that the louder, more abrasive and more shocking they are, the more they “win.” We didn't use to call that leadership; we called it bullying. So let's visit history's leaders to find our way again.

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend six hours sharpening my ax.”  – Abraham Lincoln

A hallmark of persuasive leadership is preparation. To persuade others to follow your lead begins with understanding them. It takes time to move beyond the outward signs to understand someone else's heart and find common ground. It takes even more time to cultivate a common language – not English, but the proper words – spoken at the right time and place so they will be heard and welcomed. The temptation with our instant means of communication is to tweet the first thing that comes to mind. But the persuasive leader writes out what she wants to say then puts it in a drawer for at least a day, rereading it while in a different frame of mind before saying or sending it.

“First, they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” – Mahatma Ghandi

In 1941, my grandparents moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. They had one car, which Grandpa drove to work six days a week. Grandma Elsie didn't drive. So, when she needed to go anywhere, she took the bus.

Those were days of segregation. The first thing one saw inside the bus was a sign saying “Colored passengers use rear seat.”

Grandma, a white, Jewish, first generation immigrant, was angered by this. But she was a very gentle person. So she protested in her own and personal way.

Regardless of how many empty seats there were in the bus, Grandma would always sit in the rear seat with the African-American passengers. Of course, my dad would sit with her. When the rear seats were filled, African-Americans were forced to stand, regardless of how many empty seats there were. If there were any African-Americans standing, Grandma would always stand with them. Besides making her statement publicly, though silently, she taught a life lesson to her children, who passed it on to their children, and on through the generations. It is this: When we stand for right, we are more powerful and persuasive than those in power who stand for wrong.

“I have a dream.” – Martin Luther King

The power of persuasive leadership is inspiration. We may reluctantly follow out of duty, but we enthusiastically follow when we are inspired.

Powerful, persuasive leaders look beyond the task at hand to the larger goal, beyond their job to the lofty mission. They are positively practical, helping us to focus on the possibilities and encouraging us to think creatively to overcome the obstacles.

There is a caution. History is littered with charismatic leaders who inspired hate; we must be careful not to get caught up in such causes. Whether leading or following, ask yourself this: Is my moral compass pointing north?

Persuasive leaders are powerful because they are prepared; they find common ground by seeking first to understand; they gently but powerfully stand for noble causes: and they inspire us to achieve greatness collectively.

We need such leaders today more than ever. In your corner of the world and circle of influence, are you a persuasive leader?

Marilyn Moran-Townsend is chief executive officer of CVC Communications in Fort Wayne.