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The Power of a Person's Name (Demo)

I sometimes think that leadership principles are idealistic in relation to practice. The focus of companies and organisations is money and profit. Managers are incentivised to grow the business and make the shareholders and investors rich, not to get to know and develop their people. It is of course common sense that businesses should grow financially but the question should be, at what cost?
John Maxwell makes the point that leaders on the People Development Level of leadership (level 4) shift focus from production to the development of other’s potential. 20 percent of the focus is personal productivity while putting 80 percent is on developing and leading others.
Most managers are denied the opportunity to be leaders because of the focus on managing. They stay on the positional level where they are not practicing leadership but simply regurgitating authority given to them by the organisation. To get the best out of the people, you have to know who they are.
It’s just not possible!!!
A conversation with a top executive of a retail company shifted onto the priorities of leadership. I happened to comment that if I ever took up the position of CEO, my first priority would be to get to know the people, by name. I was met with an immediate objection in that it is not possible to know the names of all employees. Leaders do not have time to do this, especially if the company has two or three thousand employees! This was met by agreement by another manager of a top FMCG company who stated that it is impossible.
A few days later I was at a braai with a group of friends and the conversation turned to leadership. I posed the same question to them and gave the example of my son’s nursery school principle. She has the ‘uncanny’ ability to remember the full names of every single one of the children who attend the school. What was really remarkable though was that she also knew the names of the children who had attended the school. After 35 years of teaching, she knew a lot of people – by name!
One of my friends’, who is a teacher himself, immediately responded and said that it was not impossible; it was actually very simple. She really cares. And not the type of ‘I care for you’, but a genuine, deep caring that goes beyond just looking after the kids at her school. She loves them unconditionally, every single day. Now I could vouch for this, as I had the surreal experience a few years ago when my nursery school teacher walked up to me in a shopping mall and called me by all three of my names. This was 30 years after I had left nursery school!
The power of a name
SunTzu, the Chinese philosopher wrote over 5000 years ago ”Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death”.
One of the most important steps for any good parent is naming their child. In actual fact, many parents consider this the most important thing that they could ever do for their child. For example, the name chosen is seen to hold the power to shape a child’s self-esteem and identity—and influence how he’s seen and treated by others. It should therefore be common sense that acknowledging a person by their name is crucial to the way they see themselves, as part of the business. It will also be part of how they feel about the business.
Leaders who practice leadership are rare. It is extraordinary to find a leader who genuinely cares about the people, and exceptional to find a leader who is admired and adored by the people. In order for this kind of relationship to develop, leaders have to get to know their people by name. It may sound arb but a person’s name is the greatest connection to their individuality. Some might say it is the most important word in the world to that person. Dale Carnegie noted, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” It just makes sense, like growing the business, to get to know the people that are making the business work.
Remember their name – earn their respect.
Getting to know people’s names is actually very simple – it just takes a little time, patience and practice.

  • Repetition – once a person has told you their name, repeat it a number of times in the conversation that you are having with them. This will allow you to associate the person with their name.
  • Spell it out – This will create a mental picture of the person’s name and allow you to make a visual representation of person and name.
  • Connect – Visualize images that sound like a person’s name — and combine it with other things you know about them. You could also associate their name to other people you know with the same name, like famous people or people you admire.
  • Be interested – Experts all agree that one of the main reasons we forget someone’s name is that we’re not really focused on learning it in the first place. There’s too much else going on and we not really interested in them at that moment.

Keith Ferrazzi, an American author focused on relational, collaboration and behavioral sciences, makes the point that if you make a conscious decision that you are going to remember names because you care about the people you meet, you will immediately become much better at doing it. The fact is, when we remember a person’s name and talk to them as such, we leave them feeling important and respected. When we care for them we do things that are in their best interests because we want the best for them. Just imagine what they would be willing to give!
“And when someone else speaks your name you feel pleased. You feel wanted. You feel there. Alive. Even if they’re saying your name with dislike, at least you know you’re you, that you exist.”
Aidan Chambers
Bruniquel & Associates (Pty) Ltd
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