Leading Up: Persuading Your Boss

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“Want to bet on it?” I said wryly as I put the folder in front of my boss.

He knew that when those words came out of my mouth I had already researched the problem and I was giving him the best possible solution. He would then mumble a bit about how things had probably changed (to save face) and then acquiesce to what I was asking him to do.

We’ve all had bosses that can be a little hard headed. I know I have. In some of those instances I often have thought, “things would just go so much smoother if he just listened to me.” Have you felt the same?

Leading up is nothing new. We all have bosses and it’s our charge to take good care of them and help them make the best decisions possible. So, what do you do with a boss that won’t listen and thinks his way is the only way? You have to go a little old school and persuade them the way Aristotle would recommend.

Aristotle once said there were three basic modes of persuasion (his rhetorical appeals) that could help move people to where you want them to be. I have found them to be a great baseline when my boss needs to be led.

Mode One: Ethos

Ethos when used as a mode of persuasion is based on the credibility of the speaker and his/her personal character. How do we build credibility?

  • Know your stuff. Read, research, ask questions. and have a 360 degree view of what’s going on. Don’t just know your job, understand how everything connects.
  • Connect people with people; people and processes; and people and things. Be a resource.
  • Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Mode Two:  Logos

Logos when used as a mode of persuasion is based on the logic of the case presented.  How do we show logic?

  • Be clear and give the facts when you are presenting the case.
  • Map out the “logic train” of how you got to where you’re at. If you are at “D” and you started at “A”, show how “B and C” factored in. If you have charts, graphs, and numbers…use them.
  • Separate yourself from the issue, if necessary.

It’s hard to argue with cold, hard facts. If you can go to your boss with an arsenal of evidence to support your case and a clear path on how you got there, it makes it easier to weigh things on your side.


Mode Three:  Pathos

Pathos is used as a mode of persuasion when we are able to stir some kind of emotion in the person we’re talking to. Emotion can be in any range (fear, empathy, justice, etc). How do we stir some emotion?

  • Connect on a personal level with your boss. Don’t start with what you want, start with something personal.
  • Show your own emotion as it pertains to what is needed. Emotions are contagious. If you feel strongly, you can pass that emotion on.
  • Share a story to elicit an emotional response.

Emotions are powerful.  Use them wisely and your boss can be won over without the facts.


Any one of these can work.  They work by themselves but are much more effective when you can couple them together (or use all three at once).   Leading up requires a strategy.  Know your stuff, give your boss the facts and don’t be afraid to show the emotion required to push him over to your side.

If–after doing your best to persuade and lead up–your boss still isn’t convinced, at least you know you did your best to cover him and the team.

Chip Lutz, CSP is a leader who’s been there, done that and has the uniform to prove it!  He unplugs leaders from the status quo and plugs them in to people, profits, and productivity!  You can get more information on Chip and his programs at www.unconventionalleader.com.



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