How a Humble Historian Can Make You a Better Leader

Primarily, we measure the success or failure of employee (and even customer) engagement by how dedicated they are to us, our product/service, our company, etc.

Yet, we fail to measure the actions that motivate such caring.

By “engagement,” I mean getting them to focus on and care about what we decide is important.

If we wanted to get a tree to grow taller, we would look at the amount of water, sun, and shade it was getting, and seek the most ideal combination based on a variety of data.

Assuming the full growth of this tree is critical, we wouldn’t ignore the research, plant it where we want it, and end up angry about its stunted growth. Of course not!

Yet, we do this with people—ourselves included—all the time.

Rather than invest time in learning about the people we want to influence, we pay consultants to devise newfangled ways to boost engagement.

During a recent visit to North Carolina, I had a chance to get to know Larry Tise, world-renowned historian and professor. During our conversation, Larry shared one of his strategies for engaging students.

“My first question to my students is always, ‘where are you from?’” Larry said.

Rather than concern himself with memorizing their names immediately, Larry refers to them as “the person from York Springs, Pennsylvania,” or wherever they’re from.

While most of his colleagues refer to their students as “Mr.” or “Ms.,” Larry finds himself insatiably curious about them and their interests. “Rather than do a traditional lecture, I engage them in a dialogue. I want to know their opinions, thoughts, and understanding of the topic.”

Beyond being a remarkable historian, Larry is a talented leader who understands the real source of engagement—an honest interest in, and concern for, the people he’s seeking to influence.

Rather than force them to want to learn, he shows them how learning happens by staying interested in them.

Ready to influence greatness? Follow Larry’s example and let yourself become insatiably curious about your team, their interests, passions, and goals. Who knows—their interests and goals may very well line up with yours!

 

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