Ethos - the Greek word for Character.

I love this word. I probably first understood what ethos is (embarrassed to admit that I was an adult!) when I was in graduate school at Northwestern University. One of my professors - Dr. Irving Rein, author of a few books and speech advisor – introduced this as we studied persuasion.

It has stayed and resonated with me ever since. And although Aristotle and Dr. Rein knew it was a critical success factor for persuasion, I now know it’s key for all successful relationships.

According to Merriam-Webster:

Ethos is the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature or guiding beliefs of a person, group or institution; also: ethic

Warrior Ethos is one of the U.S. Army’s core values:

  • I will always place the mission first

  • I will never accept defeat

  • I will never quit

  • I will never leave a fallen comrade

So this is really in support of credibility. It’s about believability, trust, honesty, truth, knowledge, and so much more. It does distinguish a person’s character and demonstrates a moral compass that is ethical in nature. Kouzes and Posner (authors of Credibility, The Leadership Challenge, Learning Leadership and others) discovered that credibility is one of the MOST important characteristics that a manager / leader can have. And their research suggests, “Credibility, like reputation, is something that is earned over time.”(Kouzes, Posner, p. 25)

So how about parents? Friends? Co-workers? We should certainly be honest and truthful and earn the trust of our people, right? Although we may work on our credibility, ethos and trustworthiness in official leader roles at work, are we placing similar effort and focus on these important character characteristics in our other circles? Because we certainly should.

And we likely all know someone who is not credible. Perhaps people who just make stuff up, or are careless with their statements, perhaps making too many exaggerations. Whether it is at home, at work, at play - even making a simple incredulous or questionable statement can put a ding in one’s credibility: “I never let my kids watch TV – we read together every night”. Really?

Ethos is really SO important in all our relationships. As leaders, as parents, as influencers, as friends and FAMily members.

Tips on building your Ethos:

  • First, be honest with yourself

  • Know that you don’t know everything

  • Put your ego aside

  • Don’t be so worried about “saving face”

  • Be ethical

  • Have courage

  • Have character - but don't be one

And if you are trying to figure out what your “Brand” is, or your “Style” or your “Story”, I would suggest building up your Ethos is a great way to start.

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