Book review – The Dream Manager

“The Dream Manager” is a book written as a fable; similar to “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. Its author is Matthew Kelly.

I wonder if fable-type books resonate with everyone, or if it’s more of a love it or hate it thing. I like them because it keeps you moving at pace by following the characters, plus it’s easier to identify your own traits if you see them in a real person or character versus an “academic” type of book Maybe a good topic for a future post.

The Dream Manager shines the light on an often overlooked part of leadership and company success: that you can only succeed if your employees succeed. Often when we do spend time on our leadership skills and our growth, we are focused too inwardly. Leadership moments where you teach others are often the times you learn the most yourself, and they are highly rewarding (in other words, it makes you feel like you did something good, because you did!).

So the key premise I’m focusing on in this article is helping your employees to succeed. And inherent in our employers’ success is the requirement to fulfill their needs and wants. And shockingly, the “dreams” aren’t often much more than ensuring someone’s basic needs are met. In the book, Kelly uses a janitorial company, and the leaders of the company are surprised when the number one issue when they first asked their employees what could be better was as simple as ensuring they had a ride to work. And when they were first asked about their dreams, many dreams revolved around vacations and owning their own home. Things many of might take for granted.

To reiterate, the leadership lesson is simple – if you want to be a successful leader, find ways for your employees to succeed.

The book also reminds us to keep dreaming, whether we are an “employee” or a “leader” we need to have dreams to ignite our passion for work or family or hobbies – really our passion for life. The book even gives us a structured process to ensure we are thinking about dreams, which by definition pulls us up and out of our current mindset or situation. We are forced to look to the future, like the running tip that says look to the horizon, only looking down in front of you periodically to check for issues.

A couple of other tidbit lessons from the book:

  • When something is really important to your company or your team, you need to dedicate human resources to it. The company in the book hires a “dream manager” who meets with the employees, determines their dreams, comes up with action plans, and tracks progress. That all can’t happen without it being someone’s job and you better hire someone who is really passionate about it. The same goes for really any project you think is important, even ones that are “intangible” like culture.
  • Having said that, the paradox is that it can’t just be one person’s job, everyone (especially the leaders) must buy in to the process or project. In the book, the main way of accomplishing this was to roll out simple pieces of the overall program as pilots and measure success to convince everyone that it works, and then go for a bigger program.


I feel like the biggest value of “The Dream Manager” could be to use it as a team building tool. I feel the same way about the “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” and have successfully used that book with two teams in the past. I may integrate “The Dream Manager” into our strategic retreat this year. The process is pretty simple – everyone reads the book, you discuss each main point, and try to create action steps for your team that will enhance your relationships within the team and move your whole organization forward.



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