I started my professional consulting career back in the early 80’s before consulting was really being taught in undergraduate business programs. I remember sitting in class and wondering how would I apply all I learned in business to my life. During this time I had a chance to get to know Professor Ron Ehresman. Professor Ehresman was faculty advisor for many of the best students attending my college. They all raved about Professor Ehresman. At this time in my life business was a dry subject full of facts and figures. Then I met Professor Ehresman and he made business interesting. I wanted to know how he did it. When I had a chance to sit in on some of his classes I soon uncovered his teaching secrets. I’d like to share them with you here today in hopes of helping make your leadership more interesting. I know I’ve used his lessons at all the stages of my consulting career and when I teach my graduate students across the globe.
First, Professor Ehresman knew his subject cold. There wasn’t a day where he didn’t share some fact or figure to get you interested in business. He was always prepared to discuss today’s class or seemed to be miraculously prepared for whatever seemed to be going on in the world that day. He always had an interesting take on that day’s news and was always challenging you to look at things differently. First lesson, know the facts.
Second, He always knew his students. He had a strong understanding of who you were and what you were interested in. Everywhere he would go he would remember you from his classes but also facts about your other activities. He could chat you up on sports or music or some current event going on in your life. It was amazing to watch him talk with my fellow business students. Not just when they were his students but far beyond the time spent at college. When I returned to college many years later, I was struck by how familiar he was with his students’ lives. He made it a habit to keep up. As one of the leaders of the business school at BW this was no small achievement. Second lesson, know the student or client.
Third, and most importantly to me, he made learning fun and never took himself too seriously. I can remember getting stuck on a topic. With a funny smile, he’d ask the obvious question. He had the way of a court jester. When I first saw Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, I thought of Professor Ehresman. I can’t help but smile when I remember some of our discussions over the years. He made it okay to be smart, but never made it okay to push your ideas on other people. He taught me to ask questions when trying to help other come to their own decisions. He had a way of making learning fun for everyone. He never seemed to leave people behind, he was very engaged with his students while remaining detached from the outcome. Third lesson, make learning and growth fun.
Now why am I sharing this with you today? This past weekend I had a chance to return to Baldwin Wallace for Homecoming. It brought back many fond memories of my time in college. I ran into Professor Ehresman at the alumni party. I hadn’t seen him for many years, but many of his successful former students were talking with him about their lives. He listened to them, his mind still going, as well as his sense of humor. The conversation turned to his life. He began talking about his retirement and his children. He was animated as ever and very proud of his son, a Miami University graduate. Then one of his older students looked at me and Professor Ehresman and asked if I was his son. We both laughed and said no, but thank you for the compliment. I reminded Professor Ehresman that his son might have been a student of mine at Miami, but I was willing to share in his son’s success. We both laughed and he began funny story about a client that we both knew and off to the races we went. This man who I modeled much of my teaching life on was teaching me another secret of his success in life and success. Cheers, Professor Ehresman. Thanks for inspiring me to be a teacher and a student. Not a bad thing to leave for a life legacy.