The programme promised to be challenging but rewarding.

The client was one of the three biggest banks in Nigeria in terms of assets. They approached the globally ranked business school where I worked part-time with an interesting request. They wanted a bespoke senior leadership development programme for three cohorts comprising their assistant general managers and general managers.

Sessions the experienced faculty were to deliver included strategy, leadership, and tech and innovation.

I was invited to facilitate three sessions on leadership communication, persuasion, and influence for one cohort. I hadn’t worked with the client before, so I was looking forward to sharing best practices with their staff on using effective communication to amplify their influence.

The participants were executives with an average of 22 years of experience in the bank. After reviewing their profiles and reading about their expectations of my sessions, I decided to provide a guide for leading more effectively.

I designed my sessions. I incorporated different elements (lectures, discussions, videos, and role-play) to coax knowledge retention. I also encouraged participants to challenge different viewpoints.

Facilitating the sessions was rewarding. But more importantly, my interaction with the seasoned executives highlighted four key points of leadership communication, persuasion, and influence that you should note when leading in the 21st century.

1) Understand that ‘likeability’ is a powerful tool to coax trust

I began my session by asking a deceptively simple question based on the participants’ decades of experience:

Warmth versus competence: Which coaxes influence?

“In other words”, I clarified, “To get results and lead people effectively, is it better to be to be liked or competent?”

The participants quickly became divided. But most of them believed that it was better to be skilled in your role to justify your position in the company than to be liked. They provided good explanations to support their decision.

After the debate ebbed, I shared the research findings on the warmth-competence dilemma provided by Harvard social scientist Amy Cuddy and her peers. The study stressed that both warmth (likeability) and competence (qualifications/technical ability/knowledge) were important in leadership. Nonetheless, to be an effective leader, warmth must come first. 

The researchers highlighted two points, which you should remember:

a) Before people decide what they think of your communication, they decide what they think of you.

b) Warmth coaxes trust. They affirmed that warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust, communication, and the absorption of ideas.

The researchers’ advice: Connect, then lead.

So, don’t incite distrust and resistance to your ideas by first demonstrating how strong (smart/knowledgeable/fearsome) you are.

Instead, I urged the participants to display the attributes that make them likeable, which will increase the perceptions of their warmth. Such indicators include active listening, open body language, and considerate discourse. After they’ve earned people’s trust, they could show how their competence delivers on the assignment. In that way, they’d influence people to work towards business goals.

The insights were eye-opening for the participants. Use them to reassess how you lead at work.

2) Consider your legacy

On the surface, this point might not seem relevant to leadership effectiveness.

But I wanted the attendees to appreciate the fact that unless they were intentional about the legacy they were creating, their influence will be short-lived. To buttress this premise, I played the tribute video offered to the family of the late Dr Kisito O. Okpere, a respected Nigerian oil and gas business leader. Dr Okpere, who passed away in 2020, was the former managing director of Shell Nigeria Exploration & Production Company (SNEPCO) — the deep water arm of Shell Nigeria (the largest oil multinational in Nigeria). The video was compiled by the HR lead of SNEPCO and presented to the family.

The instruction was clear: Participants were to write three words that appeared on the screen that resonated with them as they watched the stirring clip.

The video lasted 4.18 minutes. After it stopped, I turned to the audience. There was a dramatic silence as everyone grappled with emotions. So, I gave them a few seconds to gather their thoughts. Then I invited their responses. Words and phrases from the video that resonated with the audience included ‘humble’, ‘creative’, ‘compassionate’, ‘role model’, and ‘results-oriented’. I then challenged the participants to remember the words they’d written. I told them to decide how they wanted to be remembered in their careers. I also stressed how Dr Okpere’s warmth, overwhelmingly referred to the video, galvanised action and led the staff of SNEPCO to willingly make sacrifices and champion his goals as theirs.

The late Dr Okpere, I revealed, somewhat emotionally to the class, was my father. I explained that the sterling qualities for which he was known at work were consistent across all spheres of his life — in family, social, and religious circles.

Realise that effective leadership is about enduring service. It’s about consistently articulating a vision and inspiring people to action. You can’t lead effectively if you don’t connect with people via your body language, speaking, and interpersonal interactions.

Therefore, as a leader, become more intentional about the legacy you’d like to be remembered for by focusing on connecting with and then serving the people you lead.  This route is a surefire way to enjoy fierce loyalty and consistent results.

3) Complement Aristotle’s pillars of persuasion with storytelling

One of the hallmarks of sterling leadership is the ability to persuade people and motivate them to do their best work. Persuasion is simply the ability to influence people’s attitudes and behaviours through compelling discourse.

To understand what true persuasion is, we need to go back to over 2,000 years ago to the Greek philosopher Aristotle. In his renowned work On Rhetoric, he listed three pillars of persuasion, which are still used today: ethos (your credibility), logos (rationale/facts/reasoning), and pathos (the emotional leanings of your audience).

Cultivate the art of incorporating the pillars in some measure in your leadership communication to be successful in your role. Of the three, pathos is particularly potent because humans are predominately emotional beings who make decisions based on various emotions (compassion, fear, pride, anger, joy, etc.) — and then justify those decisions with logic.

For example, imagine you want your audience to feel so outraged at the unchecked corruption in your company that they take an action you champion:  Anonymously report suspected fraud cases on the x app. You could use incendiary messaging in your communication such as ‘appalling’, ‘scandalous’, ‘shameful’, and ‘wanton greed’ to trigger that emotion — because logos (such as the statistics or data), and ethos (the strength of your qualifications and credibility) won’t be sufficient to drive consistent actions.

Yet, you could go further in your leadership communication.

Elevate the impact of the three pillars of persuasion by adding storytelling. Never make a point without incorporating a relevant, short story. And never tell a story that doesn’t support your big idea.

There’s science is explain why stories are so powerful.  When you tell stories, you trigger the same emotion in your audience that you’re feeling. (For more information, read the fascinating explanation of neural coupling. Another bonus, as Stanford researcher Jennifer Aaker found out, is that stories are more memorable than facts and connect us to the storyteller).

Bottom line?

To become a persuasive leader who inspires people to take action, use the three pillars of persuasion where required. But always wrap your powerful points in a relevant story, which you should recount with ‘warm’ body language and authenticity.

You’d become an unforgettable leader if you do.

4) Return to the fundamentals of effective communication

It’s impossible to influence people without applying the fundamentals of effective communication.

In PART IV of my business communication bestseller Influence and Thrive, I interviewed six leaders, some of whom were entrepreneurs. Their fields spanned oil and gas, law, medicine, communication, and academia. I wanted to know their views on the role of communication in leadership effectiveness. Despite their varied fields and experiences, they stressed that great communication (simple and clear communication in particular) was instrumental to leading persuasively. A few further explained that as you go up the career ladder, your technical skills become less important. However, excellent communication skills and managing people become critical to your effectiveness as a leader.

The good news is that superb communication skills can be learned, honed, and applied to generate the impact you crave. But you must learn the fundamentals of effective communication, which are contained in my three simple rules:

  • Know your audience — so that you can tweak your messaging, body language and delivery to connect with them. Relevance must be your operative word.
  • Use the three ‘beacons’ of simplicity, brevity, and clarity — so that your communication is quickly understood, accepted, and acted upon.  When your message is simple, it becomes believable. When it’s brief, it captures attention. And when it’s clear, your call-to-action (what your audience/followers to think, know, or do) triggers support.
  • Give/request timely and factual feedback — so that you increase your credibility, boost trust, and dispel speculation that stalls execution.

I’ve tackled these three rules of effective communication in different articles on this blog, and with good reason: They’re evergreen.

Therefore, if you want to differentiate yourself from your peers as a leader, always ensure your communication adheres to these three rules.


At the end of my programme, I encouraged the attendees to commit to the next steps.

First, I urged them to lead with warmth before projecting competence. I reminded them of the tribute video to the late Dr Kisito O. Okpere and the legacy they wanted to be remembered for.

Then I stressed the need to complement the pillars of persuasion with storytelling to build trust and amplify their connection with their audience/followers.

Finally, I recommended that they use the three rules of effective communication to remain relevant and galvanise support for their initiatives.

Wherever you are in your leadership journey, note that you can use your (elevated) communication skills to increase your influence, boost your persuasive ability, and move hearts to adopt goals.

Recall the four principles shared in this article and embrace them on your journey to positively impacting lives.

Do you need help with your communication skills?

I love working with ambitious professionals, executives, entrepreneurs, and business leaders worldwide.

You already know my approach, my credibility, and my experience. So kindly get in touch, and let’s explore how my transformational communication coaching and training services will catapult you to success in your career or business.

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N.B: First image is courtesy of Pete Linforth via Pixabay. Second image is courtesy of OpenClipart-Vectors via Pixabay. Last image is courtesy of Steve Watts via Pixabay.

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