Can You Win When They Chase Dreams?

Matt has built a long history as a successful executive. Recently he got a nice buyout but he isn't ready to stop. We caught up over lunch to discuss what he'd like in his next job.

I have a lot of these conversations with executives who have done well, have cashed out and now want to do more. In each case they aren’t motivated by a dream held by a business. They are driven by a different kind of dream.

What’s the problem? If they work for you their dream usually doesn’t align with your business aspiration.


Do You Want Employees Who Aspire to More?

We know that these dreamers work harder and better. Aspirational is a good thing. The problem is the almost automatic mismatch in ambitions. When you ask people what dream they want to chase, most give answers that have nothing to do with your business. Often they don’t really know how to answer.

If you have a chance to work with someone like Matt (or if you are someone like Matt) how do you tie this energy to your growth? Think about it this way: To tie his dreams to your business growth is like running a movie theater


Get Off the Big Screen

In this metaphor, the theater’s screen displays bright and shiny dreams. They are beautiful but truly intangible. We can’t grab that image, it keeps changing. So, if you want to to make aspirations tangible you need to manage the film, not the screen.

If you put dark film in the projector, you’re working from dark thinking and feeling. And of course if you put bright images on the film, you are literally projecting light thinking and feeling. The film isn’t just about bright and shiny objects like cars or vacations. It’s also about thinking and feeling.

It may seem touchy-feely, but isn’t that what people like Matt use to drive themselves? The feeling of self-actualization is a lot more important to him than any object. The money, car, and vacations are inadequate substitutions for the feeling of satisfaction. And don’t you want people to work for that feeling?


Taking Advantage of the Aspirations

Intuitively we know that if we want to be happy, we want to focus on how we think and feel. And we know that the thought and feeling of satisfaction is something that we each generate for ourselves. In that sense, we make our own film.

You want the best of people like Matt. What drives Matt isn’t a nicer car or vacation. Matt is generating a feeling of fulfillment and he works better because of it. How do you take advantage of that?

One answer is that when you dangle a shiny object for someone (salary, benefits, title, whatever) you can turn to the film and ask what the object means.

The reverse happened to me in my first years selling in technology. My boss offered me a cash bonus if I closed a deal. I asked him if he might care to learn what I actually wanted more than money. He looked a bit puzzled and said: “No.”

I took the money. However what really drove me to succeed was the sense of growth and satisfaction. With this mis-match of aspirations I soon moved on.

How do you take advantage of the aspirations of others? Taking advantage of these dreamers is a function of asking and listening. Let Matt talk about why he comes to work. You don't need to provide that answer, people like Matt already have it. Your role is to ask, and then let him respond. And then ask questions that work from the film. Focus on how he can think and feel good while working for you.

The best contributor works exceptionally hard for dreams out of their own thinking and feeling. That is the film in the projector that puts flickering dreams on a screen. If you and Matt focus on the film your business will grow more sustainably. As you plan for next year, think of Matt and movie theaters.


 Published in Medium and in the December 2018 issue of HCM Sales, Marketing & Alliance Excellence, December 2018. All rights reserved