How to be a Dream Manager

Early in my career at Best Buy I worked for a leader named AJ. Everyone loved AJ. He made you feel like you were the most important person in the world, he always knew what was going on in your life, and he actually seemed to care about your personal future and career. 

I had never worked for anyone like AJ before and I was hypnotized by his leadership style. It seemed like he floated around the store on air and that there was a trail of positivity left in his wake. Needless to say when he was in the building things just got done. People were more productive, they had more fun, and the time flew by. 

He would high five or shake hands with every single employee he passed and he lived and breathed the “hour of power” which basically means that during the first chunk of your workday you skip reading email, sitting in the office, and doing busy work and instead spend time going and saying hello to each employee in the building. 

AJ had a presence. You knew he was working, and it was intoxicating. It seemed as if he loved the entire team. His style of leadership was influence without authority and I loved it. He had the official authority, he just didn’t need to use it. People wanted to please him and get their jobs done well. He knew just how to make you feel special and how motivate you. And he listened to your goals and dreams and helped you to make plans to achieve them.

Years later AJ left and went to run a larger building and the team still talked about him. Normally in retail the turnover in leadership is so high that most leaders don’t leave hardly any mark on their stores. Within a few months most of the team doesn’t even remember them. But AJ was remembered. 

You need to be this type of leader for your team. Your folks look up to you and each day you are given a fantastic opportunity to lead them by example. By doing so you are developing future leaders and you are guaranteed to have good business results at the same time. 

In my recent post I wrote how to hold performance reviews with your team that honor their contributions. Sharing 5 tactics that allow you to praise their hard work and lift up their spirits helping you to raise your team’s performance to another level.

Now I will share how you can foster a dream rich culture. Methods to engage even the biggest dreamers on your team. And I will teach you how to empower instead of delegate and to be the best reference.

What are the dreams of your team?

I was inspired after reading Matthew Kelly’s the Dream Manager and began conducting my quarterly employee performance reviews with a new twist. I began asking each employee to give me a new goal for the next year, but instead of a professional goal they were to share a personal one.

It is typical for quarterly and annual reviews to be heavily focused on the employee’s performance in their job. And this is good, they should be focused on this. But, in a kingdom level performance review there must be a components of personal development as well. Our work can’t only provide us with financial support. We are spending far more time in the workplace than we are in our homes with our family and friends. Therefore, if our work compatriots aren’t engaging in our personal lives— we have no personal lives. 

After implementing personal goals into my reviews I found that employees were more likely to stick around in their job much longer. When employees feel like their managers care about them personally and are encouraging them to improve their personal lives it completely changes their attitude of the workplace.

  • Many of your employees want to buy their first home
  • A few have never had a 401k before and don’t understand how it works
  • Some may want to learn a new language or how to play the violin
  • A few of my employees wanted to skydive
  • I wanted to learn how to shoot a gun
  • Lots wanted to lose weight or get stronger
  • And one even wanted to learn emergency medicine

I took all my employee’s dreams and printed them up on beautiful paper to be hung all over the walls in the employee break room. 

The effect was explosive. Employees began talking about their dreams with their co-workers and formed relationships that never existed before. I held a team meeting and challenged everyone to help each other achieve their personal goals. Asking them what expertise or experience they hold that can help their teammate achieve their dream? 

Two team members and myself took a trip to the local gun range where computer salesman David taught us proper safety procedures and how to use a handful of different guns. David has since formed a company called Helios Consulting & Training where he takes you from beginner to proficient in self defense.

A few employees started a workout group at Planet Fitness next door and some trained for a 5k together. Riley whom also worked as paramedic took his coworker that wanted to learn emergency medicine on a night shift ride along in his ambulance. 

I held a 401k seminar for employees that were interested in learning about how to get started with the companies excellent 401k program and the employee stock purchase plan. 

With all this camaraderie and much much more it lead to teamwork the likes of which I had never seen before. Employees who were disengaged became more interested in what we were working on, and the employees that were top performers found themselves with more peers to help carry the building’s performance. Our employee satisfaction scores went to an all time high and we were achieving wins in revenue growth, net promoter scores, net profit, and every other metric we tracked.

“Most people don’t fail because they want to fail; they fail because they don’t know how to succeed. Whether it’s in relationships or with their finances, people want to succeed. The Dream Manager will help them find a way. And if that is not an entity, then I don’t know what is. It needs to be someone new and fresh, someone from the outside who can bring an aura with them to the position.”

“I think you are right,” agreed Peter, and a consensus of nods shuttled around the room.

“How will this solve the turnover problem?” Jeff asked.

“I’m glad you asked.” Simon beamed. “As best I can tell, there are two things that keep people interested in a job: the sense that they are making a difference and the sense that they are progressing or advancing. Now, we are under no illusions here at Admiral, we are a janitorial company. We are not curing cancer and we are not organizing the cancellation of Third World debt. The sense that we are making a difference is limited, so we have to give our employees an abundance of the latter. We have to give them an opportunity to progress and advance. When people feel they are progressing, they are much less likely to start looking around for another job. It is when they don’t feel that they are advancing that they start to get restless.”

“So will the Dream Manager offer career counseling?” Peter asked.

“Once every six months, an employee will have the option to invite his or her supervisor to their monthly Dream Session. During that session, the Dream Manager, the employee, and his or her supervisor can discuss a vision for the employee’s future—but particularly, what the next career step is and how long it will take to achieve that next step,” Simon explained.”

“If you get these people dreaming, won’t they leave us even faster? I mean, most of them are still in dead-end jobs,” pressed Peter.

“No and no,” Simon replied. “Many people desperately need someone to help them articulate their dreams, whether they are aware of it or not. They will stay because, for many of them, this will be the first time anyone has ever really sat with them and helped them map out a future. The whole point is that, because of the Dream Manager, the job is no longer dead-end. It becomes a stepping-stone. Even if, three years from now, they are still doing the same thing here at Admiral that they do today, they will have made enormous progress in other areas of their lives—and they will link that personal progress to their job here at Admiral. The Dream Manager Initiative will create a connection between the fulfillment of their dreams and their work.”

“Julie interrupted, “I think you’re right. I’ve been thinking about something Sandra said at her first meeting. We can’t keep these people in these jobs forever, but if we can convince them to work hard in a role for three years, that will be a vast improvement on our all-time low of three months…and that will change our entire business model.”

The conversation lulled and Simon could see that people were starting to really think about the impact this new initiative could have on Admiral’s business and environment.”

The Dream Manager, by Matthew Kelly

Larger than life dreams that are bigger than your company can ever hope to fulfill

Sorry to share this bad news with you, but many of the employees working in your department are not there for the long haul. They are working for you while going through school, they may be using their position to get more experience which will transfer into a different field, or maybe they are just working for some extra weekend spending money. 

Whatever their motivation is, it is not uncommon for a big percentage of your team to be thinking they will only be in their current role for a year or two. So how do you get these folks engaged

They can easily go work for another company that will pay them equally or possibly better than you can. Well… Why can’t you be honest about this during your reviews and find out what their long term professional goals are? 

Johnny may be selling TVs for you now, but his long term goal is to be a news anchor. If you two discuss this openly you can introduce him to one of your customers who happens to be an Emmy award winning sports journalist. You can encourage him each quarter to keep working on his resume and his demo reel. And you can be flexible with his schedule to allow him to setup an internship with your local TV station. After all this support what type of engagement will you get from Johnny for the next couple years as he prepares for his dream career? 

Your employee Brittney tells you that she wants to move to Florida. Instead of losing her to a competitor you can call down to your peers in Florida and set it up so a position will be waiting for her when she’s ready to move.

Elias is in school and working towards being an accountant, but is currently answering phones. Can he spend time with you when you are doing your financial reviews? Or he can sit in on company financial calls, help you analyze your PNL, or help you write a performance update for your department. 

You don’t need to discourage the development of your team members that have dreams bigger than your company. These folks are oftentimes going to be your strongest team members for as long as you are honored with their participation. If you don’t hold them back word will get out and you will always have a steady flow of new A players trying to join your team.

“Goals convert vision into energy. When you lay out exactly what you want to do in detail, you immediately start feeling the room move and the earth shake. You are pulled into your new life like some scene from a movie. Goals help make great men. J. C. Penney once said, “Give me a stock clerk with a goal, and I will give you a man who will make history. Give me a man without a goal and I will give you a stock clerk.”

EntreLeadership, by Dave Ramsey

The best reference you can be

I make it crystal clear to my top performers that have aspirations for opportunities out of my building that I will be the best reference they have ever had. I promise that if a prospective new employer calls me that they will get the job. And I have not been wrong yet. 

I have given hundreds of references for these top performers over the years and they always get the job. Why? Because I sell them to the employer. I refuse to share just the basics. I prepare for the referral by researching the company and writing down the employee’s best qualities that match this new opportunity. I speak about their professional achievements, their work ethic, their attitude, their punctuality, and give specific examples from their performance reviews of projects that they assisted with above and beyond their general job duties. 

I sell them. And they get hired. 

And I take credit for this too! When I am speaking with top performers I share this, I don’t try and hold them back in order keep my own department’s performance looking great. This never works long-term.

I’ve become known as the manager that will get you promoted. Because of this the best talent wants to join my team. I am perfectly okay with my department being a stepping stone for a top performer. I am grateful if I can reap the rewards of them being on my team for a year or two on their way to the top. And you should be too. 

“The relationship between the employees and the company is the entire basis for the mojo they exude. You can’t have the second without the first. Unless a significant majority of a company’s people love the place where they work; unless they feel valued, appreciated, supported, and empowered; unless they see a future full of opportunities for them to learn and grow—unless, that is, they feel great about what they do, whom they do it with, and where they’re going—mojo is simply not in the cards.” 

Small Giants, by Bo Burlingham

Delegating is not the same as empowering

There is a fine line between delegation and empowerment. Many of us lean more towards delegation. Handing off tasks is essential to growing your influence and the work that you are able to complete. But don’t pretend that all tasks that you hand off are empowering. Ask yourself if you are just giving away busy work and pretending it is for their development. 

The kind of responsibility that you should be passing off to your top performers are assignments that stretch them and give them a small piece of the leadership side of your role. Having them fill out thank you cards, complete the schedule, or check your email is not empowering that is task dumping.

Having a team member sit in on an important business strategy or marketing meeting for you to take notes and then relay the takeaways to you is a great idea. Or have another employee cover their position and let them shadow you for an entire day. 

Even better… You take vacations, right? 

Well, what about giving them the keys to your department while you are away? Announce to the entire team that they will be running things while you are gone and give them a specific list of items to inspect and verify and also tasks to complete. 

One time I came back from a vacation and my team had posted “Jimmy, who?” flyers all over the building. They kicked butt while I was gone and had some fantastic days of performance. I think they thought I would tear these posters down when I returned, but I left them up until someone took them down because they were starting to fade. Why? Because I was proud! What better testimony to the development of my team than them thinking that they don’t need me anymore. 

That should be your measuring stick of development. If your team is encouraged to do a better job when you are away and you left the keys with a few responsible employee. Then you are doing a great job.

If you are afraid to take vacations because you think your company will fall apart. Then you might need to take a look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are holding the reigns too tightly. 

Another great task is to give a key employee the responsibility of training a new team member. Generally you may take full ownership of this process. But, if you have a high caliber employee and give them permission to train a new person you may be surprised at how good of a job they do. You should always add your two cents, but this frees you up to work on other tasks in your business. Perhaps working on a new strategy that you have been putting off because you are too busy.


In summary you must be a dream manager. Remember, your best teammates have the option to work anywhere. To attract and retain world class performers you must create a culture that is completely different than anywhere else they can choose to work.

I suggest you read Matthew Kelly’s the Dream Manager book and that you implement a strategy to get to know your people at this level. When you hand off a task you need to think about how it is helping your staff grow. Not every task needs to be empowering, but your best people need to be challenged again and again. 

Leaders like AJ are extremely rare. But to become one you must first start by loving your team. You need to help them become the best they can be, open doors for them,  and be an amazing reference. Help them to reach for the stars and you will be grateful even if they are only with you for a short time.

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.

Live the life you have imagined!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *