“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” 

Mark Twain

How do you train an elephant?  It’s pretty simple really.   Baby elephants are all trained for the circus in a similar way.  They spend the first year of their life tethered by a strong 6-foot rope and a stake in the ground.  After that, a trainer can easily control them with a thin nylon cord tied to their leg because the elephant thinks it can’t go any farther than the rope allows.

The circumstances or limitations most people grow up with largely shape and define the future they realize as well.  They almost can’t imagine a life outside of the one they’ve always known.

I am embarrassed to say that I used to carry some contempt for those on the other side of the tracks.  I would surmise that their ethnicity and lack of economic mobility gave them opportunities I didn’t have.  That they were given support for things like secondary education that I would never enjoy.  

In my confused thinking, the disadvantaged were actually more advantaged than I.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized that it wasn’t opportunity for advancing and changing your life that determined success, it was the hope and expectation of that change that determined the outcome.  If I grew up in a world where largely no one went to college or envisioned a life outside their disenfranchised circumstances, it was pretty miraculous to break ranks.

If I grew up in a home and in a community where I was taught that I could do or become anything, I could find any career or level of success. Nothing would be off-limits to me.  The world becomes a table of endless possibilities.

Matthew Kelly’s “Dream Manager” posits a really beautiful idea.  In the hearts of everyone you employ are hopes and dreams.  Maybe given up on, repressed, or the source of a lot of diminishment and shame; but dreams none-the-less.  There are things for which they hope and desire.

In their parable of an industrial cleaning company, they found that those hopes and desires were far more simple than you might imagine:

  • home ownership
  • sending a child to college
  • getting a degree themselves
  • fixing a marriage
  • learning English as a second language
  • travel

They found that by drawing out their employees dreams and helping them craft simple plans toward realization, they could change their lives for the better.  They could address their deepest hopes for extending their reality beyond their circumstances. 

They could make their dreams come true.

Through affinitizing their employees' hopes and dreams, they found there were a handful of consistent themes.  Themes that allowed them to easily address those desires with simple resources, support, and training.

High degree of care.

Low cost of implementation.

Huge return on investment.

And not that it is the primary objective of this kind of initiative, but how do you think those employees responded?  What do you think happened to turnover, employee loyalty, and engagement when their employer genuinely started to care about the things they desired most?

Small confession:  As a faith-based guy, reading Matthew Kelly’s book was one of the things that convinced me that businesses could be the hope of the world.  That businesses could be the front line in changing lives.  It gave me an enormous amount of motivation to transition from a successful career in banking to a more fulfilling one as a coach.

We are in the early stages of discussion and implementing some version of this with several clients, and buried dreams are already starting to resurface. 

  • What are the deepest desires of those you employ?
  • Do you think their lives and expectations are constrained in ways you don’t understand?
  • Do you care enough about them to actually desire to understand their hopes and dreams?
  • How do you think their lives might change if you did?