Great Leaders Leverage Employee Dreams

Years ago I was interviewing a CEO before presenting a keynote to 500 of his company’s leaders. I asked him what differentiated his company from other competitors in the industry. He told me, without hesitation, “Our people. They’re great – skilled, enthused, service-minded. They’re the heart of our company.”

He paused, then added, “I wish I knew more of them by name.” In the early days of the company, that was easy – he had hired most of the leaders and managers and had a hand in hiring many of the team members. “Today,” he related, “I’m embarrassed to realize that I don’t know 3/4 of the staff here.”

This CEO was dead-on accurate about two key ideas. First, the heart of any company is it’s people. Second, leaders have to know the players – each player – they’re engaging with every day. If leaders don’t, they may find team members going through the motions, not fully inspired by their work environment, their jobs, their opportunities.

Create Connections

Leaders must invest time and energy in learning not only what skills team members bring but WHO they are as people. In Whitney Johnson’s upcoming book, Dare. Dream. Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream., she relates a great example of how critical human connections are in day-to-day business. She describes how Atul Gawande created a surgical safety checklist with a step that included introductions of surgical team members to each other before any operation. Gawande’s research found that when this step occurred, the average number of complications and death fell by 35 percent (!). By “activating” each others names aloud, team members were much more likely to speak up during surgery if they saw a problem.

Leaders, learn team members names. Connect, one to one.

Encourage Discussions About Dreams

Leaders need to be aware of the messages they send. Whitney describes an interaction she had with her then 10-year-old son who had auditioned for a local play. Not knowing whether he’d made the cast, Whitney found herself saying, “You know, there aren’t many parts for boys your age, so don’t be disappointed if you aren’t picked.” Her son replied, “Mom, why are you discouraging me?”

Too frequently, messages in our organizations are not validating of others skills or efforts. When asked about the feedback they receive from their bosses, employees overwhelmingly state that the most frequent feedback they get is the LACK of any feedback. The second most frequent feedback they receive is negative, pointing out mistakes, expressing disappointment. Eliminate messaging that expresses ideas like, “You’re not good enough” or “You really blew that one” or “I don’t thing you can do this.”

Only when employees feel trusted, honored, and respected will they share their hopes and dreams for their work, their team, their company. When those dreams are expressed, opportunities often arise to enable those dreams – or a portion of those dreams – to be acted upon. That creates a groundswell of well-being that is powerful.

Create a safe, inspiring workplace, and leaders can learn what employees would LOVE to learn, what their DREAM job would be. Learn those dreams then open doors so team members can act on those dreams. Performance will skyrocket!

How well are your dreams valued in your workplace? What do great leaders do, in your experience, to connect & value employees’ dreams? Tell us in the comments section below.

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