The English writer and theologian G.K. Chesterton once said that “there is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.” Earlier this week, at a gathering of Concordia’s newest students, I heard this phrase spoken once again reminding students that their education begins with them being interested in EVERYTHING. From their classes, to their classmates, to the beauties of nature, to co-curricular activities, to the pursuit of God...when people become interested in things, they suddenly find that multiple subjects are actually interesting.
Most people who end up in leadership positions are more than likely these types of people. Because they are interested in all kinds of things and pursue knowledge in multiple areas, they soon find themselves moved into leadership roles and perhaps find that they have less time to pursue all of the interesting things around them. So how might one in a leadership role remain interested in all types of subjects and keep on being an interesting person? Here are a few thoughts:
- Learn to say at the start of conversations “tell me more”: I meet all kinds of people in a given week, many of whom do things about which I have no clue. By the time the conversation is over, I have learned something new and the other person has had a chance to talk about themselves.
- Travel by yourself: when I travel with a colleague or friend, I tend to spend more time with them than with other people whom I do not know. Be brave...travel alone.
- Sit at the bar: when you sit at a table in a restaurant, there is no one else to talk with. Sitting at the bar can put you in touch with some of the most interesting people in the world.
- Invite new acquaintances out for lunch or coffee: taking an hour out of one’s schedule to be interested in another person can produce amazing results…who knows what that person brings to your organization – or just to you as a person?
- Accept invitations to coffee or lunch: I have been blessed by so many people in my life who took the time out of their schedule to spend an hour with me while I asked questions and learned from them. It is time for me to pay it back to the next generation.
- Browse the bookshelves at your favorite bookstore: find a book on a topic that you know nothing about and start reading it. Three things might happen: 1) you actually learn something new and have another topic you can engage in with others; 2) you begin to apply that new topic to leadership principles and your personal leadership improves; or 3) you discover that this is a topic in which you do not want to read or think about further and there is now one less thing to clutter your mind.
- Get involved in a board or organization outside of your expertise: nothing is more humbling (or accelerates the learning curve) than sitting in a board meeting for the first time and having no clue what the other members are talking about. Write down those acronyms, spend the next week learning what they are, take another board member to lunch, read everything you can about the subject, and then jump in wholeheartedly.
This list could go on and on. For me, I need to regularly take an inventory on whether I am remaining an interested person and finding more and more subjects interesting, even in the flurry of activities associated with being president of a university. Perhaps an afternoon at Half Price Books this weekend (20% off) will get my interest level reignited.