Academic journal article Global Virtue Ethics Review

Ethos and Manager's Credibility: Lessons from the Classroom

Academic journal article Global Virtue Ethics Review

Ethos and Manager's Credibility: Lessons from the Classroom

Article excerpt


This article explores the topic of ethos within the contexts of education and management. Major dimensions of ethos are identified and discussed. Finally, lessons are offered from classroom teaching that may help managers to be perceived as more effective and credible communicators.


Does the following example sound familiar?

   Ted is the manager of a small retail store. He worked at the store for five
   years and the retail business for ten years. He clearly knows his business;
   other employees respect his knowledge of the retail industry, but he has a
   problem managing. Ted likes to tell people what to do; he finds it easier
   to simply issue orders rather than to discuss issues or seek suggestions to
   problems. Ted believes that he knows best and frequently reminds his
   subordinates of that belief. As a result, Ted's staff is plagued with high
   turnover and low morale. Ted blames these problems on their lack of
   motivation to do well and their general lack of loyalty to the store. In
   Ted's mind, he is doing everything right and his workers are doing
   everything wrong.

This brief scenario suggests a number of problems that seem to dominate Ted's communication style as a manager. One in particular appears to weaken his role as an effective manager: ethos. This ancient Greek concept lies at the core of how people perceive our character and their beliefs in our interactions with them. In Ted's case, his workers believed that he was knowledgeable in retail, but they seemed to have had serious doubts about his abilities to manage effectively, to trust his knowledge or experiences for improving their effectiveness or morale as workers. Stated differently, their perception of Ted's ethos (or credibility, in contemporary language) as a manager suggests that he lacked their trust to lead them in ways that benefited the store in general and themselves in particular.

Educators know the importance of their ethos (credibility) in their pedagogy and teaching style in the classroom, as well as its (ethos) relationship to (Anderson, 1979; Beebe, 1974; Gage, 1994; Kearney, Plax, Richmond, & McCroskey, 1985; McCroskey & Richmond, 1983; Plax & Kearney, 1992). Many teachers understand the potential effects that credibility can have in the classroom, and realize the perception of their credibility comes from the students they interact with on a daily basis. What lessons, therefore, can educators and managers share? How can such lessons help managers improve their ethos with their staff or other organizational representatives? This is not to suggest that managers are not using some of the lessons addressed in this article. Rather, this article explores the concept of ethos within the contexts of education and management. Next, this paper identifies major dimensions associated with ethos. Finally, lessons are offered from classroom teaching for purposes of enhancing the perception of a manager's credibility. Such lessons may help managers not only improve their effectiveness to lead but also their abilities to communicate more effectively and ethically with others. Clearly, some managers may not be perceived as effective communicators. Yet they may be perceived as being highly ethical. This article's intent, however, focuses on helping managers be perceived as effective and credible communicators.

Definition of Ethos

Ancient Greek scholars realized the importance of the concept ethos in persuasion. The famous Greek philosopher and teacher Aristotle studied and taught this concept. In his work The Rhetoric, he identified ethos as:

   ... the character [ethos] of the speaker is a cause of persuasion when the
   speech is so uttered as to make him worthy of belief, for as a rule we
   trust men of probity more, and more quickly, about things in general, while
   on points outside the realm of exact knowledge, where opinion is divided,
   we trust them absolutely (Aristotle, 1960: p. … 
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