good leaders remember names

Good Leaders Remember Names: How to Get Better

Chris and Jo are getting ready to pitch their idea at a meeting with new stakeholders. Both wander around the meeting beforehand making small talk. Chris makes a point to remember names as he goes.

Both Chris and Jo make their pitch and take questions. Chris responds to each person calling them by name. Jo doesn’t. Whom do you think sparked the deeper conversation?

Troy and Sue are both fitness instructors who lead a nearly identical class. Troy already knows the names of all the regulars and takes time to learn the new ones before he starts.  Sue does not. Guess which class is consistently filled?

Donna is an elementary school principal who greets every child (and their parents) by name in the parking lot each morning. When it’s Ryan’s ( the assistant principal) turn, he just smiles and waves.

I can’t tell you how many managers have shrugged their shoulders and told me, “I’m just not good at remembering names,” as if this is as a permanent genetic condition.

Why Remembering Names Matters

“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.”

Using a person’s name…

  • demonstrates that you care
  • reinforces that they matter as an individual
  • shows you are paying attention
  • makes them feel valued
  • enhances your credibility

If you wrestle with remembering names, why not have this be the year you improve that aspect of your leadership?

How to Remember Names

In his book Remember Every Name Every Time, Benjamin Levy shares a simple FACE model to make things easier.

F- Face: Notice and study the person’s face

A- Ask: Ask what version they prefer Ben or Benjamin?

C- Comment and Cross Reference: Make a linkage to an image you can remember

E-Employ: Use the name in the course of the conversation

If you want more ideas, there are some good ones in this blog post. How to Remember a Person’s Name, 11 Steps with Pictures.

I have also had luck with making an organizational “yearbook” which we shared throughout our remote organization. We don’t get together that often so it can serve as a useful refresher.

Your turn: What are some of your best techniques to remember names?

Posted in Communication and tagged , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. I have found that associating a person’s name with someone else in my life with that name helps in the short term. Repeating it in the conversation helps a lot.

    And, total cheat here….at summer camp, with a 100 plus new names a week to learn for 10 weeks straight, I just call every kid Monkey. Then, when some kids see’s me in public and says, “Hi Eric.” I say, “Hey Monkey” They are normally impressed I remembered their nickname from camp. Or, if a kid says hi to me in public and my wife or kids are with me, I’ll say…”Hey dude, you should remind my wife who you are…she’s terrible with names.” This works every time.

  2. Eric, thanks so much for sharing. That sounds like an extraordinary task with so many coming through. Monkey… hmmm… wonder how that would go over in corporate America? Great stuff.

    • Bobbi, so great to have you join the conversation. Wow, I imagine that many students can really be quite a task. Glad to hear the face recognition and relating to folks they remind you of works even with that large group.

  3. I will admit you caught me Karin – “I’m not good at remembering names.” It is a trait I hate, because I know it looks like I don’t care. I do care. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions but you’ve just convinced me. I will improve on this this year! I will no longer allow my bad memory to be an excuse. Thanks

    • Lisa, thanks so much… yeah, it’s hard for me too… we can all continue to work on it together. For some people it does seem to come easy, but my guess is most who do it well are really working at it. Great to have you in the conversation.

  4. I’m usually very good with names. Though, I have to admit, other times I’ll struggle to remember someone’s name.

    Instead of acting like Seinfeld where he forgets the girl’s name, I’ll just say “I apologize, I forget your name. I’m Steve Borek.” It doesn’t mean we don’t care. We’re human.

  5. This is so true! In my fitness instructor role, I always write down new members’ names with a descriptor and then review them before the next class. And, when I forget, I just ask them again. It really does make a difference especially when I haven’t seen them for awhile. 🙂 At work, luckily our staff list and Outlook both have pictures. I do try and walk around, say “hi” to people and engage in conversations in the break-room. I don’t want to be a senior manager that only knows my direct reports.

  6. Hey, my first comment on your blog! 🙂 This post resonates with me because I know how important I feel when someone who I have only met once or twice remembers my name. I also know how much I struggle to remember someone’s name and I take the same path as Steve, apologize that I forgot, introduce myself again, and ask them their name. And I usually add, “I might forget it again, so please help me out!” It IS something that I have been working on, however, ever since I walked into our bank (a very large bank – not a small local one) and the bank manager – who had met me one time – looked up and said, “Hello, Carrie!” I was stunned. Ever since, I have made more of an effort to use and remember people’s names, and it DOES make a difference. GREAT post, Karin!

    • Carrie, Yeah!!!! Glad to have you join the commenting. I too have been stunned…. my parents’ minister remembers all of my family’s names even though we go to a different church. It blows me away every time.

  7. I struggle with this sometimes too, because I work on TV, and people see me a lot more than I see them. My husband is great…when he’s with me at an event and someone comes up, if I don’t introduce them right away he realizes I don’t know the person’s name and says “Hi…I’m Chrys’ husband Tom…” at which point they say their name and I’m off the hook.
    I do find repeating the person’s name and trying to use it several times during the conversation helps to solidify it in my brain and keep it there longer. The older I get, the more tricks I need!!

    • Thanks so much for sharing this. Yes, it’s great to have a helper. I just came back from a funeral and saw about a dozen people who I worked with about 7 years ago. I thought, oh boy, here’s the test (karma from having just written this post). I missed one… and my husband was right there and jumped in. So great to have you join the conversation.

  8. Great post! A challenging reminder to avoid the petty crutch; “I’m bad with names”.
    Each year I was a teacher, I would ask my new students to write their names on note cards along with a few interesting things about themselves- favorite movie, type of music, sport, goals, etc.; then I would carry those cards during the first days of school and study them as I interacted with students.
    I love and will employ the FACE mneumonic.

  9. Totally agree that learning, remembering and using names is an important skill for leaders. What has helped me in addition to FACE is seeing the person’s name written down on a business card, or better yet, writing it down myself. There is something about connecting a face with a written name that works for me. I have found this to be effective for me to learn a name that comes from a different culture than my own.

    • Bruce, Thanks so much for adding that. I agree, connecting a person’s face to their name can be so helpful. So glad to have you adding to the Let’s Grow Leaders community and conversation.

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