Ethos and senior leader communication : examining responses to a policy change memo
Martin, Sarah E.
King, Cynthia L.
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Senior leaders use persuasive messages to achieve a variety of outcomes in the organizations they lead. Previous studies have examined discourse in senior leader messages to draw conclusions about leader communication, but little has been done to explicate the nature of the assumptions and judgments that emerge in both the intent and reception of these messages. This paper examines the relationship between senior leader intent and audience reception of a policy change memo in a large government agency. Using a think-aloud protocol, 24 qualitative interviews were conducted one with the director and 23 with employees from field level through senior management. Rhetorical and thematic analysis of interview transcripts indicated that Aristotle's three components of ethos-good sense, good character, and goodwill emerged as primary themes in both the director's intent behind the memo and in the way that it was received by participants in the study. Findings illustrate the manner in which ethos can operate in senior leader messages. This study concludes that ethos is an important rhetorical appeal in leadership messages and is an important basis of reader judgments. Implications for the relevance of ethos to business communication are discussed.
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