Books fall off the shelf

Sometimes I walk into the library and books ‘fall off the shelf and into my hands’. Not literally, usually, but metaphorically. Last week it was a little book called The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly. I suspect, when I stumble across books in this manner, that there is something important in them and it would behoove me to pay attention. (Likewise when someone sends me a book – but that’s for another week.)

The author of The Dream Manager is saying that successful businesses, in fact successful organizations of any kind, are going to have to look at motivating their members/employees to stay with them in the near future, because the available pool of talent is going to become thin on the ground. Their survival will depend on it. He says the following in his introductory chapter:

It has been forty years since Peter Drucker observed the single greatest error and deception of our accounting system: people are placed in the liability column on the balance sheet. Machinery and computers are categorized as assets and people as liabilities. The reality, of course, is that the right people are an organization’s greatest asset. We may have acknowledged this truth in theory, but we have not allowed it to sufficiently penetrate the way we manage our organizations, and indeed, the way we manage the people who drive them.

The fly-leaf describes the book as:

A business parable about how companies can achieve remarkable results by helping their employees fulfill their dreams. … Beginning with his important thought that a company can only become the-best-version-of-itself to the extent that its employees are becoming better-versions-of-themselves, Matthew Kelly explores the connection between the dreams we are chasing personally and the way we all engage at work.

I am still reading the book and so I can’t fully comment on it yet but I am intrigued by the idea of investing in people’s efforts to make their dreams a reality. It was my experience in the 80’s that the world of business was obsessed with short-term gain and not particularly interested in the welfare of it’s employees, treating them as raw materials used up in the process of production, to be disposed of if they didn’t fit the mold, or if they were ‘used up’. Conversely, if the employee was valuable enough, the company would negotiate to pay more in order to keep him(usually a him). If not, well, they were expendable. My fear is that this is still so but I haven’t tested it recently to find out.

Beyond getting our basic needs met, I don’t think that people working in organizations are as motivated by money as we’ve been led to believe. I acknowledge that it is a factor but I watched a lot of talent walk out of the organizations for whom I worked. Unless they felt they were being grossly under-compensated, their reasons for leaving had more to do with their values and whether they were treated with respect.

Twenty years ago, from my perspective in the organization’s HR department, I could see that employees were the business’ greatest assets but that they weren’t being treated as such. I felt like a lone voice in the wilderness. Once I started to work as a therapist, I was in a position to gain more insight. Many people felt trapped in jobs without personal meaning. The lucky ones were able to get out but even they soon found that the next job had similar issues.

That’s why The Dream Manager, and the fact that it is being read so widely, is encouraging for me. It gives me hope that we can make workplaces more creative and meaningful. We spend such a huge chunk of our lives at work. It would be invaluable if it could be a place that engendered satisfaction and growth instead of resignation to the status quo.

I was having coffee with a friend today and we were talking about passion for our dreams and what such passion feels like. I have noticed with my clients that when they talk about what makes them passionate in their lives, they light up. Their eyes sparkle and they get more animated. It is a joy to watch. It’s even contagious! And those people who have not yet identified what their passion is tell me they feel flat and that something is missing in their lives. then the challenge is to help them to find it.

I knew a man in England who gave a speech on the occasion of the retirement of one of his plant employees. After the speech, he went up to the man to wish him well and to ask him what he thought he was going to do when he retired. It turned out that the man had been a band leader all his adult life and that retirement meant that he could do it full time. This was clearly his passion. Who knew? Certainly not the management. It had never occurred to anyone that anything could be more important to him than his job – that it might have been just a means to an end. And if the employee had not had that band, he may not have been able to stomach his repetitive job for all those years.

I believe that my passion is what makes me who I am – uniquely me among all others. It is through my passion that I express my life force, often my talent. It challenges me, gives me joy and a sense of deep satisfaction. I can work at it when I have no energy left for anything else in my life. It gives my life meaning. I believe I bring my passion to my efforts to attain my dreams. Perhaps it’s even what fuels my dreams.

I’ll leave you with this: Have you given any thought to your dreams lately? Can you articulate what they are? Do the people nearest and dearest to you know what they are? Does your boss? Have your dreams been slumbering in a forgotten corner for a while? What would it take to dust it/them off and give them some attention? It might be worth it. And if you manage other people, you might want to ask them what their dreams are. You may be surprised. Who knows what passion and creativity might be unleashed!

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