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Align Dreams with Company Goals, Don't Steal Them

Align Dreams with Company Goals, Don't Steal Them

Today, I would like to share a story about Charlotte that I first shared in Cohesion Culture™: Proven Principles to Retain Your Top Talent. The focus of the story is on utilizing transformative leadership to get the best out of your people. Transformative leaders aren't dream stealers. They are dream aligners.

While transactional leadership is needed in specific situations, transformative leadership is essential to leading the process of infusing cohesion into the culture. A culture of cohesion exists when people say, “I love where I work (belonging), I feel the company wants and needs me (value), and I am willing to do what’s needed to get the job done (commitment) because it is best for me and the company.”

Transformative leaders focus on the needs of others and build goal achievement first through relationships and then through tasks.

Ensuring that individuals work together in the same organization— whether individually in charge of specific aspects that contribute to a whole or as a group effort—is about teaching vision in a way that causes others to aspire to greatness and fosters a sense of belonging within a trusted environment. The leader’s focus is on helping others commit to success first then self.

When you think of others first, you are working within a collective perspective. The reality is that leaders can motivate others regardless of the intention of their mindset, perspective, or actions. But not all motivation is sourced from a good place. There are leaders who want people to perform because they say so, or in order to get a big raise, or so others will like them. Understandable reasons, certainly, but it begs the question “What are you trying to achieve?” To be the type of leader that champions a Cohesion Culture™, we must embody the seven attributes of an effective leader and operate with honesty, compassion, grace, truth, humility, purity of heart, and peace. Then and only then can we understand the transformative power to care about how someone feels and how they are treated.

The opportunity is to think the needs of others outweigh the needs of the individual. There is a dichotomy to it. While a leader must focus on the one, she also ensures there is a collective benefit. Look at it this way: you may individually work with Gretchen, Melinda, Jeff, and Chad, but as a group, they will create a distinct identity; if something isn’t working for a single one of them, ultimately you’ll need to rethink things.

The transformative leader focuses on others by aligning their personal goals with desired organizational outcomes. It’s about finding the sweet spot that allows for optimal success because when individuals succeed in what they want to do, the organization will succeed as well. The needs of the individual are meant to be integrated with the needs of the company to access the maximum benefit to both.

To give you an example of this, during an early time in my career I was leading a group of service individuals who handled monetary transactions for a financial institution. One day I noticed one particular rep during an interaction with a customer. I’ll call her Charlotte. After cashing a check, Charlotte pulled the money from her drawer and, as was customary, counted the varying denominations to herself first, and then to the consumer. Normally there was nothing out of the ordinary to note about this process, but this time, she brought her leg to the top of her stool and counted the money as she slowly bent the other leg and came back up. She continued this activity, much to the customer’s dismay, until the money was given out. This service representative was as nice as could be and always very helpful. The way she counted the money had nothing to do with being considerate or friendly.

After the customer left, I asked Charlotte what she had been doing. Without hesitation or apology, she proudly informed me that one day she was going to be a ballerina. To help her get into shape, she had decided to exercise at various times during the day to strengthen her legs for the rigor needed to perform multiple pirouettes in a row. This was one of those moments when a leader has to think on his feet. I knew Charlotte had a passion for dancing deep down inside, which I could relate to—although she was obviously much better at it than I was!

It would have been a wonderful ending to this story if I had encouraged her or helped her aspire to be the best ballerina ever. Instead, to my chagrin, I was the transactional leader who told Charlotte that being a ballerina had nothing to do with counting cash and she should stick to what she was being paid to do. My lack of concern for her and her dreams did not lift her up. I became sidetracked in my focus on the transaction rather than on the person. I look back on myself in that moment as a dream stealer, and the saddest thing was, I didn’t even know it at the time.

But what would the transformative leader have said in this situation? What I have learned is that I could have acknowledged Charlotte’s desire to be a ballerina, to be able to perform perfect lifts and pirouettes and to move flawlessly along the floor on the tips of her toes. Instead of a leader who diminished her dream, she deserved a leader who could first try to see whether that dream could align with the desired corporate outcome of an environment in which customers were comfortable.

Aligning Dreams with Company Goals Beats Stealing Them

Even so, finding such an alignment isn’t always possible. In fact, in looking back, I can’t see a way for these two desires to align— for Charlotte to perform her strengthening exercises in front of customers while counting money. And yet, I still have regrets about how I handled the situation. All would not have been lost if I had looked for a way to motivate, influence, and enable Charlotte to apply the same passion for dancing to being the best serviceperson at our financial institution. I could have acknowledged her dream as important and still helped her to see why her desire to exercise at work was not appropriate. At least she would have had a supervisor who understood how to think of others first.

Even in this case, it’s likely I would not have retained Charlotte as an employee. Her personal desire to be the best dancer ever would have aligned perfectly with a dance company that wanted their dancers to perform amazing routines.

In this case, Charlotte leaving her job may sound like an outcome that isn’t ideal for my financial institution. And on the surface, it isn’t. After all, we spent the money and time to interview, hire, and train Charlotte. But consider this. Where was Charlotte’s motivation to put her best into her job going to come from? If she was determined to be a ballerina at all costs, her best efforts would continue to be put toward that goal and not toward improving customer service at work. She might have continued to work for me, and to count money without doing leg exercises, but she would have no incentive to improve, to give above and beyond the minimum of what was asked. At best she would be faking her behavior with customers so as not to get reprimanded by me again.

But if I had been able to address her passion for dancing and communicate that I cared about what was important to her, even if I couldn’t accommodate her exercising during customer transactions, I would have invested in an employer–employee relationship that went beyond the transactional. I would have shown Charlotte that I could be trusted to hear her talk about the things that mattered most to her. That I was interested in her whole life, beyond what she could provide my company. That there was room for her to be her true self at work, albeit in an appropriate way. And out of this would likely have come her desire to be the best customer service rep ever. The benefit to a company full of employees like that is self-evident. And that is the power of transformational leadership.

In focusing on others, a transformative leader aligns personal goals with desired organizational outcomes, rather than stealing dreams; finding that sweet spot allows for optimal success.


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