What Does Leadership Really Mean?

What Really is Leadership?

By Dr James Whitehead, Senior Lecturer in Strategic Management and Expert Speaker on the Help to Grow Programme at Cardiff Met

Leader and Leadership are nonsense words. Not because they are unimportant, quite the opposite, but because they are bandied about with increasing frequency and little real understanding.

For example, the terms ‘leader’ and ‘follower’ are becoming routine ways to talk about the hierarchy in organisations and increasingly replacing words like ‘manager’ and ‘worker’.

Management it seems is going out of fashion, while leadership represents the new remedy for organisational problems.

Management development has become leadership development and senior management teams have transformed into senior leadership teams.

Yet these new words do not necessarily involve any significant practical changes. Leadership is often used because it makes managerial work sound more impressive and collaborative.

Instead, we should recognise that both leadership and management are important, although different.

The Difference Between Leadership and Management

I have been led by hugely impressive figures who looked and talked the part but could barely manage their way out of a paper bag. Conversely, I have been managed by hugely intelligent and meticulous individuals who could not inspire me to cross the road.

I like to think of management as a science, the science of getting the right people in the right place at the right time, with the right equipment to get the job done.

While leadership is an art, the art of doing what the science of management says is impossible. There are times when you don’t have enough people, enough time, or the right equipment.

In which case you need people to adapt, improvise, and/or work the extra hours to make up for who or what is missing.

The art of leadership lies in persuading them to do it, which is discussed during Modules 7-9 of the Help to Grow Management Programme at Cardiff Met University.

The Art of Persuasion

Broadly speaking, leadership is about influencing or persuading people toward the achievement of a common objective. You could use bribery, blackmail, or coercion, but for me that’s not leadership.

Fortunately, the art of persuasion has been pretty much understood for millennia and was written down by Aristotle in the 4th century BC in his notes on The Art of Rhetoric.

Here he describes a powerful formula for persuading people: ethos, pathos, and logos.


The word Ethos means to convince an audience that you are worth listening to because of your credibility or character (ethos is the Greek word for character).

Ethos can be found in your expertise, accomplishments, or position. Let me give you an example:

During the Help to Grow Modules I begin by asking the attendees to stand up, turn 360 degrees and then pat their heads and rub their tummies.

I then ask them why on earth they did such a ludicrous thing. The answers invariably include – because you’re the teacher.

If they also know that I am an ex-army officer, have a PhD and have written a book on leadership, as well as coming highly recommended by their boss that may also add to my ethos.

It will not last long, however, if I then talk drivel.


The definition of Pathos means persuading an audience by appealing to their emotions.

Pathos can be used to prompt action by invoking sympathy from an audience, inciting anger, or inspiring passion. This can be done by using meaningful language, emotional tone, evocative examples, and stories.

To cynics, it’s the gift of the gab, political flannel, or hot air, but done well it is at the heart of persuasion and influence.

You do not need to deliver a team talk like Jurgen Klopp or the equivalent of Martin Luther’s ‘I have a dream…’ speech, but you do need to hit the right notes with your audience and make it sound sincere.

You also need to sound convincing, which is logos.


The word Logos or the appeal to logic (the word “logic” is derived from logos) means convincing an audience by use of common sense or reason.

To use logos is to cite facts and statistics or well-known authorities on a subject that support your case.

This is likely to include a sound plan, describing how you are going to achieve your objective, which is where being a good manager comes in handy.

So, what practical advice can you take from this?

1 ) Listen and think

If you want ethos you need to think carefully about each leadership – management role you are appointed to, but also seize opportunities to lead and manage whether formally appointed or not.

As with any skill, the more you practice the better you should get, if you think carefully about what you are doing.

Listen to what people are telling you about your leadership style and take advice from other leader – managers you admire.

The very act of listening is a powerful leadership behaviour.

2) Know your audience and be self-aware

Pathos comes from knowing your audience. Whether it’s a new team or one you have led for some time you need to understand them as best you can, because this will allow you to speak to them in a way they appreciate and understand.

Kairos is arguably Aristotle’s fourth mode of persuasion, which means something like the right time or opportunity to speak, given the context in which you operate.

It is a combination of audience demographics, such as age, culture, gender etc. It’s the appropriateness of your tone given the nature of the occasion, and your relationship with the audience and the topic.

Think about what you are trying to say, how it might be received by your audience and therefore how do you say it best. It might be worth trying it out on a trusted colleague first.

3) Have a vision and plan

Finally, logos. You may be highly regarded by your team, and you may fire them up with a great speech, but if your plan is pants you will soon lose their respect.

They will only follow you out of politeness and curiosity for so long.

So, have a clear vision of what you are trying to achieve, why it is important and how it will be done, including where, when and who will do what.

Which brings us back to ethos, because if you get the pathos and logos right it will precede you into your next job/role as enhanced ethos.

Get them wrong, however, and you just made your next gig, if you are given one, a whole lot harder.

Next Help to Grow Course Starts September 2022 – Funded Places Are Still Available