By Frank J. Rich
It is better to set our aim too high and miss it than to set it too low and hit it, or so said Michelangelo. If organizations are the model of “results in the making,” the propitiation of good plans and execution, it is likely that audacious goals set the mood in them. In fact, it is seldom that anything but “bold moves” will affect the marketplace. Yet, few have the “pluck” to attempt them.
“Pluck” is variously defined as courage or resolution in the face of difficulties. We see it in the decisive and steely resolve of “authentic leaders” everywhere, and in all those who lead successful “any-things.” They include those who raise good families, who go to work each day with a purpose beyond oneself in mind, and who consider that to “affect others for the good” delivers the best results.
In this political season what would Aristotle say to those on the podium about how to persuade? He would say that, aside from “tortures, depositions, and the like,” there are only three ways: “logos, pathos, and ethos.” In simple terms that means, logic, emotion, and character. Put it all together, and you get a reasonable argument, passionately made, by a person you trust. Add “pluck” and you have a compelling package of persuasion.
But what does this have to do with the ROI in building successful organizations? Everything!
In the weeks before the 2008 general election we were introduced to Sarah Palin, a relative unknown, until she was drafted as the vice presidential running mate of John McCain. She made a good impression on America with a clear mind, cleverness, and plain-speaking honesty. She came across as being a “regular person”— a devoted family member, the mother of a special needs child, a passionate believer in country and the hope in its people. She also had “pluck,” that innate confidence in herself that spells a self-assurance and belief system of persuasive value. And, it appears she was successful at affecting others by it. The polls show that America responded in kind.
Sarah Palin is not alone in possessing this all-important ingredient of authentic leaders, revealed in quiet moments by their work and louder by the powerful phrase of action it communicates. Gandhi had it; so too, George Washington and Harry Truman. Hillary Clinton is among those with “pluck,”as was Julia Child and Vince Lombardi. They all had it; they all exerted a persuasive energy that compelled others to greatness on some plane.
John Adams had “pluck.” Known for his acerbic wit and incisive style, he would regularly corral his brethren by steely summary statements of purpose and insight. Among them was the assertion that “the Constitution of the United States is meant for a moral and religious people, and would not work for any other kind.” That’s “pluck,” and not coincidentally, borne out in America’s experience.
The work of organizations — non-profit and commercial alike — requires the best of all to achieve their goals. It requires that we take risks, having the courage to do so with confidence, courage born of self-assurance and belief in the purpose and ideals of our organizations. It requires “pluck.”
Unlike Plato, Aristotle’s mentor, who believed in logos as the only legitimate way to win friends and influence people, Aristotle was willing to look beyond “strictly rational appeals.” Pathos allowed that emotional appeals persuade as well. Thus he wrote: “Style makes a matter more persuasive.” Finally, he wrote: “Character contains almost the strongest proof of all.” Simply, it matters “who” is trying to persuade us. If the person trying to influence us shows “common sense, virtue, and goodwill,” we are more likely to trust in him.
We have learned that “peoples,” those joined with a common goal, have a conservative ethic. While they generally allow the differences in others — a kind of inner security that encourages uniqueness — they hold to a personal ideal that respects integrity, consistent behavior, and decency. They are not anarchists, despite the freedom to speak out about anything of concern. Nor are they pleased to see their own cobbled by drug abuse, unwed pregnancies, or the egregious use of power that corrupts organizations. Ultimately, they forgive most things — a conservative nature.
In forming a “better union” with others it is necessary to exhibit the character that Aristotle extols above. At times it takes courage to do so; it takes “pluck.” If we are to win the battle, in organizations, in government, in life, we do well to form these character traits. We do well to find the heart in matters, as spoken by Theodore Roosevelt, a man of considerable pluck.
Courage, hard work, self-mastery, and intelligent effort are all essential to successful life. Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.