Karin’s Leadership Articles

How can you encourage the lazy and disengaged? The short answer… roller skates, or their metaphorical equivalent. Stay with me as we flashback in time.

I was arguably the most disengaged and “lazy” sorority pledge at Wake Forest University. I had rushed because I was warned that nearly all social life on campus centered around the Greek system. I had never viewed myself as a “sorority girl.” I was more of the studious, madrigal-singing type. But there I was skipping “mandatory” events that felt to me like a colossal waste of time and blowing off the requirement to interview every “sister” about her favorite foods and secret fantasies. When my advanced biology class started to crush my brain, I was on the verge of quitting.

Brig, the President. pulled me aside. I felt instant relief.  Ahh, I wasn’t going to have to quit. I was going to get kicked out, even better.

“Karin, you seem athletic. Do you know how to roller skate?”  I laughed. My friend Sabine would visit from Germany every summer and we strapped on roller skates most days until dusk swirling, racing and making up shows.

“Actually, I do,” I confessed.

“Great, we need someone to do the roller skate leg of the relay around the quad for the Greek games (think high energy, silly, yet serious olympics).”

“Oh, I’d love to, but I didn’t bring my skates to school.” Off the hook again.

“Oh, I’ll find you some skates.”

“Well, I’d have to try them out and I’m so busy studying for this biology exam,” even I knew how ridiculous that sounded as the words spewed out. Clearly I was still trying to get voted off the island.

Brig persisted, “What time are you done studying tonight?”

“Midnight.” (Yeah, I really was being that jerky.)

“Great, meet me on the quad at midnight. I’ll bring the skates. The race is at 3pm tomorrow.”

As I laced up the skates, she asked me how I was liking the sorority. I began to confess. As I skated and she ran beside me around the moonlit quad, I shared my fears of losing my academic scholarship if I didn’t pass biology, my resistance of the silly interviews, and my feelings that this just wasn’t for me.

Brig listened intently and asked questions. “Why did you join the sorority?  What requirements are making this seem impossible? Do you know why we require you to talk to each sister?”

She explained the “why” behind every ritual. And then we worked together to create a reduced schedule of obligations that I could commit to and keep my academic standing.

When she returned for homecoming a few years later I asked her if she remembered that night. “Of course I do,” she smiled. “Good leadership is never accidental.”

“How crazy is it that I ended up being President?”  I smiled.

Brig looked at me full of confidence and pride. “Karin, I knew one of two things was going to happen with you. You were going to quit, or you were going to be President someday. My vote was for President.”

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. Steve Borek

    Engage in conversation which is what she did with you. She became curious about what you were thinking. Sounds like she empowered you and gave you the ownership.


    • Karin Hurt

      Steve she really did. It’s funny, she was a math major, not looking to go into leadership at all, but she was a natural.

  2. Marcia Reynolds

    It is amazing how just stopping to talk and listen to someone can change their life. Thank you for this great story!

    • Karin Hurt

      Thanks so much, Marcia. I totally agree. Our world needs more such conversations.

  3. Lindy Welsby

    I have been ‘dis-engaged’ on a few jobs when I was in Corporate Canada…..I wish I could only have had a leader who had this ability, natural or learned to ASK me what would make things better. Thank you for sharing Karen.

    • Karin Hurt

      Linda, Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I learned a lot from this situation on the importance of asking. It has served me well over the years.

  4. Steve Broe

    Questions and sincere interest are powerful tools to change lives, aren’t they? Thanks for the story Karin.

    • Karin Hurt

      Thanks so much Steve. Yeah, it’s amazing how powerful good questions can be.

  5. Terri Klass

    What a great story, Karin and I loved that you actually became president of you sorority! And yes you are a natural born leader!

    What Brig (Is that a real name?) did for you was take the time to get to know you in a more meaningful way. When leaders connect with their team members by asking questions to learn more about what motivates them, they are building deep relationships which can often lead to future leadership as with you.

    I know I am more eager to work harder when I think the people around me care.

    Thanks Karin!

    • Karin Hurt

      Terri, Thanks so much. Yes, Brig is short for Brigette. French, I think.

  6. Alli Polin

    I love that story, Karin! I too pledged a sorority because it was the thing to do but never got over the disengagement hump. I see now that I had chances to connect, yet made other choices.

    In corporate life, I learned that part of what fostered disengagement was that someone else was always calling the shots. Early on, I wanted to throw my hat and creativity into the ring in a bigger way and some rockstar leaders I worked with encouraged me and created the space to do just that. Moving from doing… to thinking… to owning did wonders for engagement.

    • Karin Hurt

      Great insights, Alli. Thanks. I so agree…people want to be involved and know they are making a difference.

  7. Jon Mertz


    A great question – how to engage the disengaged? Be curious with the individual. Ask them questions. Find out what their ideas are. Determine what stirs a spark within them. With whatever you learn, take some action to let them know you heard them and value what they offer.



    • Karin Hurt

      Jon, you raise great points here… it goes beyond listening, people need to know they have been heard. Amen.

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