As the quote (actually attributed to author Joel Barker) suggests, the best leaders not only create their vision, but also inspire others toward action. We recently lost Nelson Mandela, one of our generation’s greatest world leaders, and like many others are reflecting on what made him special. We believe the quote captures his greatness. Mandela not only set an audacious vision, but also convinced others to make it their collective dream. He understood that the ability to dream makes us uniquely human. He then inspired those around him (and the generations to come) to unleash their own dreams and change the world. South Africa – and the world around it – will never be the same.

In a similar vein, we have recently been touched by The Dream Manager, a book that showcases a crucial role of leadership – to recognize the dreams of those we lead and inspire them to achieve those visions. As The Dream Manager‘s author Matthew Kelly suggests, “dreams are invisible, but powerful. Think for a moment about electricity. You cannot see it, but it keeps everything going.” In his book, he shares an allegorical story of a janitorial company with a massive turnover problem. This hypothetical company starts with a simple premise – that the future of your business is intertwined with the future of your employees. It hires a “dream manager” to work with its employees. The dream manager first helps the individual employees identify their dreams and then holds them accountable to realizing those dreams – of buying new homes, advancing in their careers, or providing storybook Christmases for their families. The dream manager finds that the best way to engage employees in the company’s dreams and goals is to first engage them in their own personal dreams and goals. Through this work, the employees become more engaged, identify solutions to company problems, and start working as a team. Their turnover problem ceases to be a problem at all. By the end of the parable, the company has multiple dream managers, who even serve employees’ families and has other companies wanting to follow their model.

In the social sector, we rely on our employees to have passion for our causes. However, does this mean that they are living their dreams? We also work with clients on finding jobs or overcoming trauma, but shouldn’t we also be asking them about their dreams for the future?

As many of us get ready for a new year, Matthew Kelly suggests the following framework for “managing successful dreaming” within an organization:

  • Write your own Dream List, which can help you create your own Personal Strategic Plan.
  • Spend 30 minutes each morning walking around and visiting with your team. Take sincere interest in their work and lives.
  • Organize a team Dream Session, which allows each person to share their personal and professional dreams with one another, seek assistance, and become accountable to the team for achievement.
  • Use employee reviews as an opportunity to understand each employee’s dreams and explain the dreams of the company or department.

Today, and in the future, we must all look within ourselves and ask what contribution we can make to keep our dreams and the dreams of those around us alive. Nelson Mandela was the ultimate dream manager and we owe it to him to continue supporting each other in our collective dreams for a better future.

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