For a short time in my professional career, I held the title of “Dream Manager.” Really. I still have the business card. And, while the position only lasted a brief time (the 2008 recession gave it a quick ending) one single lesson has stayed with me to this day.
The position was simple enough. I was an internal coach/consultant to the 300 employees of the company that employed me. I helped employees with everything from financial decisions to health goals.
Employees were able to take advantage of a 45 minute coaching session once per month. They could talk about whatever goal they chose and I would add a little goal setting lesson to give the meetings structure.
Most of the time, people really wanted to talk. They had goals readily available and seemed only limited by the fact that they only had 45 minutes to share their dreams with me.
Then there was Raul. Obviously this is not his real name. He was an older Latino man, a leader, and not a big talker. Actually, he was painfully quiet.
The 45 minutes I spent with him felt like some of the longest moments of my life. Every time I asked him a question, he would furrow his brow, tilt his head…and say nothing. Occasionally, I would receive a grunt or a deep sigh. Beyond that, it was simple yes or no answers to the content I shared.
Throughout the meeting I tried to figure out what he was thinking. By the time we came to the end of the 45 minutes, I believed I knew. He must have thought that this whole thing was a waste of time, that I simply talk too much, and that he would need to let everyone else know what a waste of time this whole coaching proposition was in the first place.
With a couple of minutes left on the timer, I was out of questions. I began looking around the room and trying not to show how ridiculously uncomfortable I was.
Just then, Raul leaned back in his chair, took a deep breath, and asked one simple question. “When do we really get the time to do this?”
“Do what?” I asked.
“Just talk about me, about what I want. I can’t remember having had that opportunity in a long time.”
Raul was a successful man. He was one of the highest paid salespeople in the place and he had a great family, house and life. But, even with all of this success, he still felt un-heard.
He told me that he had not really thought about what he wanted in years. That he was just doing what he was doing because that is what he was supposed to do. He said that he was going to do some thinking about what he really wanted, but that simply having the conversation, simply being asked, and being able to devote a little time to himself, made him feel engaged in ways he could not explain.
In our struggle for success, we can all become really good at doing what we are supposed to do. We can follow the rules and make all the right choices. But, in that process, in our dogged pursuits of excellence, we can also lose ourselves. The line between what I want vs what I am supposed to do can get blurry.
As professionals and leaders, when is the last time you were really heard? When is the last time you allowed focused time to simply allow someone else to be heard?
Being heard is a vital part of feeling like your voice matters, that what you do has purpose, that you are an important part of a bigger picture. Raul connected with that in a simple 45 minute conversation, despite my poor delivery. The power of that connection still influences me today. It is a lesson I hope to never forget.