Leadership And The Power of Inception

Ordinary people have a dream. But extraordinary people instill a dream.

A while ago, I was feeling “cool.” I landed in Atlanta, picked up a sharp red convertible, and started on my drive to my speaking engagement in Alabama. Of course, the weather was great, the top was down, and with my shades on, I felt and thought I looked great.

Before long I was driving about 70 miles an hour in a 50-mile an hour zone. But I wasn’t giving it much thought because several cars passed me like I was sitting still. In fact they passed me at such fast speeds that I thought something should be done about it.

Then I saw it. Coming over the hill behind me was a police car with its lights flashing. I thought that was great — that the police would teach those super speeders a lesson.

To my surprise, the police car pulled me over. The policewoman asked me if I knew how fast I was going, and I admitted I was going too fast. But then I added, “Did you see those cars pass me? They were really speeding.”

She said, “Yes,” she had seen them. And again she asked if I knew how fast I was going.

I told her I wasn’t sure, but I knew it was a lot slower than those other cars that passed me. I asked her why she didn’t stop them.

She said, “Because I CHOSE you.”

How true. So many times you and I have been chosen to fulfill certain obligations — whether we like it or not. We have been chosen to do the right thing.

I often think that’s the way it is with supervisors and managers in most organizations. They have been chosen to do the right thing — to make sure things are working at work — to make sure people are doing their best.

Unfortunately, most supervisors and managers were chosen because they excelled technically. But their technical skills may have little to do with the people skills they need in their roles as supervisors and managers. They may not know how to bring out the best in others.

That’s why I offer my on-site Peak Performance Boot Camp for many organizations.

Of course I could write a book on how you can bring out the best in others, but I defer to Dr. William Glasser. He said people are motivated by four things. One of those things is “gaining worth and recognition.” If you help your employees gain worth and recognition, you’re off to a mighty good start.

Here are two ways you can do that.


Do like Charlie Paddock did. As a winner of two gold medals in the Olympics, he was speaking to a group of kids in Cleveland, Ohio. He was challenging them to be all they could be.

After his speech, a skinny, spindly, shy little black kid came up to Charlie. He asked, “Mr. Paddock, do you think I can become an Olympic champion?”

Charlie said, “If you believe in yourself, if you believe in your dream, if you don’t let anybody hold you back, you can do it.” The kid replied, “Thank you, sir,” and ran home.

He told all his friends that Charlie Paddock said he could become an Olympic champion. And all his friends said, “Yeah, sure. No way.” They looked at his skinny legs and simply told him it couldn’t be done.

But that young boy grew up. And in 1936 he went to Germany, and before the whole world he won four gold medals — making him the world’s greatest athlete. His name, of course, was Jesse Owens.

Later, Jesse returned to America, where he was put in a motorcade and given a confetti, ticker-tape parade. As his car was moving along, a little black kid ran up to his car and asked, “Mr. Owens, do you think I can become an Olympic champion?”

Jesse remembered asking the same question of Charlie Paddock. So he ordered the motorcade to stop, got out of his car, and got down to eye level with the kid. Jesse said, “Son, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in your dream, don’t let anybody hold you back. Then you can become a champion.”

As you can imagine, that little kid raced back home and told all his friends he had spoken to Jesse Owens. And he told his friends he was going to become an Olympic champion. And, of course, all his friends laughed.

But that little boy grew up. And in 1948, in England, Harrison “Bones” Dillard lined up for the 100-yard dash in the Olympics. Along with seven others, he took off for the finish line, to break the tape at the other end, and get his gold medal. He broke Jesse Owens own record that had stood for 12 years.

For years afterward, Dillard would tell his story. He would say that his moment with Jesse Owens was the time the dream was instilled in him. He would say, Jesse “freed” him to become the very best he could become.

That is exactly why you have been CHOSEN to be a supervisor or manager. You are there to “free” your coworkers—to help them become the very best they can become. And you do that — partly — by instilling a dream.

Are you instilling dreams? Are you helping people to believe in themselves? If not, you are getting far less from your people than what they are capable of giving.

As Dr. Glasser said, you need to help people gain worth and recognition. So instill a dream. And then follow my second suggestion.


I’ve been amazed at the power of a simple exercise I do in one of my workshops. I ask each person to tape a blank sheet of paper to the back of his/her shirt. Then I ask the people to circulate amongst the group, writing notes on the papers taped to people’s backs. They are to write about anything good they see in the other person. It could be a professional skill, a personal quality, or anything else.

You might think, “How silly. My group would never do that — especially our upper level people.” Not true. I’ve done it with entry level employees and top executives — all with great success.

Just the other day, an executive from one of my construction company CEO training sessions stopped me in an airport. He said, “Alan, I want to show you something.” He pulled out his papers, filled with notes from our class, and said, “Here’s what the people in our class had to say about me. I keep it with me all the time, and I take it out and reread it when I get discouraged.”

He had gotten some worth and recognition from the comments of others. And those comments helped him be his best.

I’ve also seen the picture technique work very well. Just pick a person to be the “special person of the week,” and put his/her picture on the wall. Put the picture in a hallway that many people use throughout the week, and put some blank paper on the wall beneath the picture. Then invite anyone and everyone to comment on the good they see in that person.

There doesn’t have to be any particular reason to “feature” a particular person. Everyone can be special. And it doesn’t matter what focus the comments take, just as long as they are positive.

Of course, as the “special” person of the week passes by his picture, he’ll probably tell his coworkers, “This is really dumb,” or “This is so embarrassing.” Nonetheless, that same person will sneak over to the sheet of comments at 2:00 a.m. when no one is watching, to read what others have to say.

So take every chance you can to comment on the good you see in others. You’ll feel better, and the other person will do better.

In summary, you have been chosen to bring out the best in others. Try the two strategies I’ve outlined today, and you’ll be well on your way to doing just that.

Action:  It is your job to get the job done — but often times you’ll get more done if you engage the full potential of those around you. That’s why it’s important to instill a dream in others.

Think of the one or two people who did the most to instill a dream in you. Write down what they did and how they did it. And then outline the steps you can take to instill a similar sense of belief in those around you.