Whenever I speak to a small group of thirty or less, before the session I privately ask each person their first name. I repeat it several times in my mind to lock it in. I also try to notice a distinguishing feature that helps me recall their name. As I go to the next person, repeating the process, I look back around at those I’ve already met and repeat their names in my mind. I do this until I feel satisfied that I have all the names, with their faces, locked down. If I forget one, I’ll ask someone near me to remind me of that person’s name.
After I’ve remembered the names, I’ll get up and say, “I’m so glad to be here and to have met Jerry, and Alice, and Jim, and Mark, and Judith, and….” Row after row, or table to table, no matter their seating arrangement, I’ll speak out their names. People love to hear their names called out, especially if it’s from someone they respect or think is important. Of course, they’re shocked and marvel at my unique memory—to which I chuckle, because my memory is no better than theirs. I’ve merely made an extra effort to remember their names.
When someone tells us their name, we mostly let it go in one ear, and out the other. We don’t hear it because we don’t care, or know them well enough to care, and they’ll probably never cross our path’s again anyway.
Here’s a question for you. When you go to a restaurant, do you ever ask the waiter or waitress their name, or notice the name tag they wear? If so, do you repeat their name when they return to the table? Many people say, “I’m terrible at remembering people’s names.” Instead, they should say, “I’m terrible at trying to remember names”—because you will remember the people important to you and your world. We’re mostly terrible at remembering the names of the “invisible people” who affect our world—in temporal or permanent settings. I decided to practice remembering names long ago, because people matter to God and, therefore, they need to matter to me—even if for a brief encounter.
One day Jesus passed through Jericho and saw a small man hanging in a sycamore tree above the crowd. This caught the Lord’s attention. When he stopped under the tree, the Father must have given him the man’s name. He looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately, for I must stay at your house today!” The crowd of course criticized this action because Jesus had invited himself to the house of an extortionist, a despised tax-collector regarded as a traitor to nationalist and religious Jews. Everyone knew this man’s name, they had associated with sinners. But Jesus knew Zacchaeus’ name name meant “pure” and “justified,” and his intent was to restore this disbarred man from the community back to his true and lost identity as a “son of Abraham.”
Every person’s name is significant. Our names mean something. For Zacchaeus to hear his name picked out of the crowd, in a non-judgmental tone—lit up his sad, lonely world. Jesus, the most currently celebrated figure in all Israel, noticed him and spoke his name before all. Later that day, at his house, Zacchaeus demonstrated a change of heart toward those he never knew, those he had extorted through unjust, inflated taxation (Luke 19:1-10).
This is how powerful it is for leaders to know their people, to remember their names, to make note of their needs and bless them through spontaneous acts of kindness. Jesus changed this man’s life through such an act.
To care enough about strangers and ask their name may make their whole day. I love doing that with everyone, not for my sake, but because God loves and cares about them. Every day may provide an opportunity for us to reveal his love through our actions—as his ambassadors. And if we can bless strangers in that way, how much more will it bless those who work for you, or follow your leadership?
Notice your people. Notice their likes and dislikes.
One entrepreneur I know orders food for her staff whenever she takes them out because she remembers the food they ordered and liked at other times.
She pays attention.
She’ll also buy an occasional small gift (when she’s out and about) because she remembers someone in her life or company who liked a particular item she happened to comes across and knows they would be blessed by her token of appreciation for them. This caring business woman demonstrates the benevolent nature of God. Her employees love her kind and caring ways and, therefore, work hard for her. This employer provides all leaders with a great example of knowing your people. Do this, and you’ll fulfill the advice King Solomon once gave to his shepherds:
“Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds.”