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The Aspirational Conversation

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What do you need to have at work to be fully engaged?

What do you need to have at work to be fully engaged?
The Aspirational Conversation

Welcome to the “Ordinary Greatness” blog.  It is our hope that this space will be able to spark some thought, remind you of some tools that can make you a better leader, and connect you to some of the ideas in “Ordinary Greatness.”

Let’s get started with an important concept we discuss in the book: the aspirational conversation.  This is a tool we recommend every leader employ.  Sit down and have a conversation with each of your staff members that is all about THEM.  Not what you need them to do for you, but about what they want out of work and life.

Do you know the aspirations of each of your employees? Do you know where they want their careers to go in the next five years? Aspirational conversations are ongoing dialogue between the individual and their manager focused on personal development actions to support the expansion of responsibilities, upward mobility, or new career paths.

I was reminded about this when I saw a recent interview with Will Wright in The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/14/business/14corner.html).  Wright is a leading video game designer (“The Sims” and others), and he was able in this interview to talk about his people development strategy.  He definitely utilizes aspirational conversations:


“For a lot of people, their job and their position are not the relevant part of how they see themselves. They have an internal view of themselves, their career aspirations, the direction they want to go. The really important motivational stuff is more in their secret identity.


“A lot of that has to do with talking to them. You want to spend a fair amount of time exploring their interests, what they do outside of work. Usually people always have some passion that really drives them.


“And this to me is one of the important points of working collaboratively with other people — trying to get a sense of what is the one thing that makes their eyes light up, they get excited about and they won’t stop talking about. And if you can get a sense of what that is from somebody, and you can harness that, that’s going to have more impact on how they perform their job, how they relate to you, how you can convey a vision to them in a way that they get excited about it.


“For me that’s the real key to a lot of this stuff — exploring and understanding the personal passions that people working with you have.”

While we devote significant space in “OG” to this topic, here are a few questions to get you started in having your aspirational conversations:

Aspirational Questions


  • What are two of your skill areas you would like to further develop?
  • What is a new skill or talent you would like to pursue this year?
  • If you had unlimited time and money to spend on your career development, how would you invest them?