2 Ways Leaders Create Environments Where Dreams FlourishPublished December 23, 2021
Leaders have inordinate power to create life-giving environments where dreamers and their dreams can flourish. We also have the terrible power to create life-killing environments where dreamers are discouraged and their dreams are crushed. In my book, The Hospitable Leader: Create Environments Where People and Dreams Flourish, I wrote at length about how hospitable leaders are hospitable to people and their dreams.
Those you lead will flourish as you help them accomplish their dreams.
The famous statement of Jesus in the Gospel of John (chapter 10 verse 10) is one of the most important utterances on hospitable leadership ever offered. Jesus contrasted good and bad leaders with good and bad shepherds–describing himself as The Good Shepherd who gives “more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” He contrasted His practice of this life-giving, dream-inspiring leadership, with the life-stealing, dream-killing leaders who are like thieves who “steal, kill and destroy.”
No matter where you lead, whether in the church or business, those you lead will flourish as you help them accomplish their dreams. As hospitable leaders, we must inspire the people we serve to more and better life than they even dreamed of.
Here are two ways hospitable leaders can empower dreamers and their dreams:
1. Make it about them and their dreams.
History is littered with leaders who appeared to believe that the primary purpose of their leader power was to make their own dreams come true. Of course, leaders must have dreams, and the bigger the better. But I submit that a central emphasis of our dream must be to serve the dreams of the people we lead. We must be able to focus on the goals of the entity we are leading–a company, a family, a football team, a church–while focusing on the dreams of the individuals in it at the same time.
“When the men saw my state, they returned my devotion, for they knew I would burst my heart for them.”
My definition of a moral leader is someone who “inspires, influences and empowers others to self-actualization and the accomplishment of mission.” That’s pretty standard leadership jargon unless you’re laser focused on the juxtaposition of “self-actualization” and “the accomplishment of mission.” Self-actualization here refers to the dreams of those we lead. Accomplishment of mission refers to the dream of the thing we are leading. My experience is that the default position of many leaders is to go all in for the accomplishment of mission, far too often at the expense of the self-actualization of those who people the organization. I believe we can and must do both. I frequently tell my congregation that I get up every day to do everything in my power to help them see their God inspired dreams come true while inviting them to fully engage the mission of our local church. It’s amazing how people respond to a leader who they know is hospitable to their dreams.
Steven Pressfield uses powerful leadership language in his historical novel about Alexander the Great. Alexander explained that what made his army so wildly successful was the heart of the individual soldier and each soldier’s will to fight. His soldiers’ hearts were forged–and their wills inspired–in response to Alexander’s passionate leadership. He poignantly describes how the first time he led men into battle, “I was so overcome I could not stay myself from weeping… I was moved by the sight of them in such brilliant order, by their scars and their silence, the weathered creasing of their faces. When the men saw my state, they returned my devotion, for they knew I would burst my heart for them.”
I love this picture. Alexander’s men marched into victorious battle again and again in response to a leader they knew would “burst (his) heart” for them. As a leader I want people to hear my voice and passionately and willingly follow me because they know I am not just leading them to fulfill my God-given dreams. My heart bursts for them. I want to lead them to more and better life than they ever dreamed of.
2. Don’t make it ONLY about them and their dreams.
To be hospitable to people’s dreams does not mean that we are focused only on their dreams, and it certainly does not mean that we are encouraging people to focus only on their dreams either. One of the greatest gifts we can give our followers is the opportunity to dream in an environment that is not just about them. Jesus promised more and better life than ever dreamed of in a much larger context than the dreams of any one person. He wanted us to see our dreams, in light of His dreams for the world. We can lead people to a fully actualized life when we provoke them to dream the dreams God dreams for them in alignment with His dreams for the world.
We can extrapolate infinitely practical principles from this larger concept; dreamers need to feel connected to a great mission. They need to know that life is about more than just them. David Brooks wrote “life is essentially a moral drama, not a hedonistic one.” I would say that leaders best serve people when we engage them in a great moral cause.
Leaders best serve people when we engage them in a great moral cause.
Our mission statement at The Life Christian Church attempts to capture the synergistic possibilities of inspiring an individual’s dreams in the larger context of an organizational mission to do good in the world at large: “to inspire people to the life God dreams for them as we spread His love in ever-widening circles.” I want to inspire people to pursue their dreams with a larger moral mission firmly in mind
Part of what great leaders do is invite people to an adventure that subsumes their potentially self-centered, small lives, in a cause greater than self. Great leaders are always issuing invitations to a great adventure, I believe, but people often don’t know that’s what they want. They may have limited dreams, or dreams that are only about themselves, if they have any dreams at all. We must help people uncover their dreams, encourage their dreams, and provoke them to dream in line with God’s good dreams for this broken world.
This may sound all too esoteric and ethereal, but I believe every leader can get in on this. Each of us can ask how what we are leading is advancing good. We can pay great attention to the good dreams in the people we lead. And we can accept responsibility to create environments where these people and their dreams can flourish in a way that helps make this a better world.
“More and better life”: John 10:10 MSG
“Steal and kill and destroy”: John 10:10 MSG
“I was so overcome”: Steven Pressfield, The Virtues of War (New York: Bantam, 2004).
“Life is essentially”: David Brookes, The Road to Character (New York: Random House, 2015) p. 262
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About the Author
The New York City Leadership Center; The Life Christian Church
Terry A. Smith is co-founder of The New York City Leadership Center and has served as Lead Pastor of The Life Christian Church for twenty-seven years. TLCC is known for its vibrant diversity and robust leadership culture, with people from more than 132 distinct communities in the New York City Metro area participating in the life of the church. A gifted communicator, Terry speaks in a variety of venues nationally and internationally. His books include Live Ten: Jump-Start the Best Version of Your Life and The Hospitable Leader: Create Environments Where People and Dreams Flourish.