20 THE LANGUAGE OF LEADERSHIP USES…RHETORIC

When we think of the word “rhetoric,” what comes to mind? Fancy words? Lofty language? Oratorical eloquence? Some guy in a toga?

Surprisingly, rhetoric is far from fancy-speak. Sure, rhetoric dates back to the ancient Greeks. The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC) wrote a famous and highly regarded treatise on the subject that set the stage for everything we have since defined as “rhetoric.”1 But Aristotle wasn't writing about how to speak in bloated, formal, pompous language – his point was, in fact, the opposite. Aristotle's treatise on rhetoric was a document that set forth the art of persuasion.

Rhetoric is, in fact, the single most important handbook ever written on the art of clear, effective communication. For over 2,000 years it has taught readers about the importance of having a single, clear message with a powerful structure. And it has shown us how to use rhetorical devices to bring ideas to life.

You may not know it, but you are probably already using rhetoric. Every time you use a metaphor, “The sun is setting on that industry,” or a rhetorical question, “Why are we here? I'll tell you why,” or hyperbole, “I am so excited to come to work! I know this project is the most important thing in our lives because of how it will change the world,” you are channeling Aristotle and drawing on the power of rhetorical devices. When you fully understand what rhetoric is and how to use it, you will find new ways of bringing your ...

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