In Leadership, Dreams Are The Stuff That Great Results Are Made Of
The importance of motivation in leadership cannot be denied. But most leaders overlook a critical component of motivation, the human dream. The article describes what dreams really mean in the realm of leadership.
By Brent Filson - 2005
Leadership is motivational or it’s stumbling in the dark. The best
leaders don’t order people to do a job, the best leaders motivate
people to want to do the job.
The trouble is the vast majority of leaders don’t delve into the deep aspects of human motivation and so are unable to motivate people effectively.
Drill down through goals and aims and aspirations and ambitions and you hit the bedrock of motivation, the dream. Many leaders fail to take it into account.
Dreams are not goals and aims. Goals are the results toward which efforts are directed. The realization of a dream might contain goals, which can be stepping stones on the way to the attaining dreams. But the attainment of a goal does not necessarily result in the attainment of a dream.
For instance, Martin Luther King did not say, “I have a goal.” Or “I have an aim.” The power of that speech was in the “I have a dream”.
Dreams are not aspirations and ambitions. Aspirations and ambitions are strong desires to achieve something. King didn’t say he had an aspiration or ambition that “ ....one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” He said he had a dream.
If you are a leader speaking to people’s aspirations and ambitions, you are speaking to something that motivates them, yes; but you are not necessarily tapping into the heartwood of their motivation.
After all, one might aspire or be ambitious to achieve a dream. But one’s aspiration and ambition may also be connected to things of lesser importance than a dream.
A dream embraces our most cherished longings. It embodies our very identity. We often won’t feel fulfilled as human beings until we realize our dreams.
If leaders are avoiding people’s dreams, if leaders are simply setting goals (as important as goals are), they miss the best of opportunities to help those people take ardent action to achieve great results.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that "Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed," he was writing about a dream. Not one European government at that time was a democracy. There had been few true democracies in the West since the fall of the Athenian democracy more than 2,000 thousand years before. But Jefferson's "dream" motivated people to take action. In fact, that dream motivates people to act around the world today.
Understand the dreams of the people you lead. People will not tell you what they dream until they trust you. They won't trust you until they feel that you can help them attain their dreams. Acquiring that understanding can cement a deep, emotional bond between you.
Dreams are not fantasies. Going to the mountain may be a dream. Standing on the mountain may be a dream. On the other hand, having the mountain come to us is a fantasy. Dreams can be realized, fantasies can't. Focus on dreams, on what is objectively achievable, not on fantasies.
Dreams are positive, uplifting. The Old English word “dream” means "joy, music, and noise-making." But that positive, inspirational quality can have negative effects on an organization.
Negative dreams can damage an organization. For instance, union/management issues are often particularly inflammatory because of conflicting dreams, of both sides seeing the other as "the enemy." Your audience wanting to go back to the "good old days" can be a negative dream. Only a trusted leader can help people reshape their dreams.
Most people have a dream for their life and work. Even people in abject circumstances, such as prisons and concentration camps, dream of a fulfilling existence beyond their present circumstances. If they lose their dreams, they lose an essential quality of their humanity.
People won't be transformed by your leadership if you have a low opinion of and low expectations for their dream and/or if they are convinced that you can't help them attain that dream.
Many people don't consciously realize what they dream. But that doesn't mean that they are not influenced by their subconscious dream. A subconscious dream can motivate people to act without their clearly understanding why they are acting. Have the people you lead be fully conscious of the content and meaning of their dream or risk having your organization's activities be impeded by a dimly perceived yet none-the-less potent dream.
Each dream has a price. It's one thing to think it. It's another thing to do it. Know the price people will have to pay to attain their dream. Have them understand the price.
As a leader, dream with the people! Without hitching our wagons to stars, the wagons and the stars lose their true meaning in our lives.
Dreams give meaning to emotion and purpose to action. People who believe they’re living their dream see their jobs as part of a higher cause and will work accordingly. Conversely, people who see their jobs as antithetical to their dream, may see that work as oppressive; and they too will work accordingly.
Dreams are supreme reality. Dream graffiti on a Paris wall during the 1968 student rebellion said, "Be realistic: Do the impossible!"
2005© The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"