Dreams in the Boardroom: The Role of Dreamwork in Leadership Development
Training courses, longer (university) educations, workshops and coaching sessions – all of them typical methods when it comes to leadership development. Yet, there’s a hidden resource that remains largely untapped in the corporate world: our nocturnal dreams. I would call it the leadership tool of the future (many of course already having adopted it, as described below).
It is one of the best tools to fully discover yourself, your (real) drivers, your strenghts and blind spots, your biggest fears… And when discovering all of this, you have a better chance of becoming the leader of your (and your employees) dreams.
If you’ve subscribed to my newsletter for a longer time, you would know that this idea is not so strange afterall. In fact, if you as a leader start tuning into (the content of) your dreams, you could soon be role-modeling the new leadership paradigm: A results-oriented, but also highly compassionate and inclusive form of leadership.
One providing high levels of psychological safety. In other words – the kind of leader that masters the difficult balance between results and real human thriving.
Let me dig into how our dreams hold significant potential for leadership growth and development, and thus also, better, more effective board meetings.
Dreams have been a source of mystery and fascination for centuries. While some still dismiss them as mere random firing of neurons during sleep (a belief in the scientific dream research community back in the 1980’s), modern-day neuro- and dreamscientists fully agree that we dream for important reasons. That we simply can’t do without them.
Memory consolidation, creative problem-solving, and mood regulation are just some of the very important reasons that we dream.*
Further, those seemingly “weird and meaningless” dreams do mean something. In fact, they are revealing deep insights into our inner workings, our deeper fears, and thus, our unconscious drivers. Do you know what you (deep down) are most afraid of when it comes to your work, or in your role as leader? And do you know what that then does to the quality of your leadership?.
Increased self-awareness, higher self-esteem, and better relations with others (thus also colleagues and employees), is what scientific dream research has found to be the effects of tuning into our dreams.** In other words going deep within.
If in a job, as much as 50% of your dreams contain work-related elements, especially if you work in stressful environments.*** Those dreams are deep reflections of how your work affects you. But also the other way round. What you dream about impacts how you work.
Ever tried waking up from an intense dream that kind of stuck with you all day? Or, have you tried being worrisome or tense, without really being able to say why? Yup, that’s the unconscious stuff happening inside you (the stuff that dreams are made of), directly impacting your productivity.
What are we really afraid of?
As identified in research, 9 out of 10 leaders are deeply afraid of not being good enough. Afraid of not having what it takes.**** They are, in other words, deeply and utterly afraid of losing their job. The challenge is, that the impact of this deep, and not so talked about fear, is much bigger than we are usually aware of.
In many of the 1:1 sessions I have had with leaders and employees, sessions where we’ve mostly talked about the content of their dreams, it becomes blatantly clear just how much this fear impacts their leadership.
The most common effect is an unconscious tendency to work long hours. To work “hard” (in quotation marks, since we all know that the more we work, the less efficient we become). A tendency which however way we put it, sends an unfortunate message to our employees.
Also despite us saying “you don’t have to work as hard as I do” (and maybe we try to hide it, but believe me, your employees sense if you are stressed and/or work long hours).
So, the imposter syndrome is really at work here. I.e. the deep, often unconscious fear, that one day “everybody” will discover just how “useless” we are (which in fact, we are not). Dealing with the exact content of your dreams is key in facing, and thus working with, how much, and in what way, you are suffering from this deep feeling of inadequacy.
Discovering the impact of this fear of not having what it takes, is just one element that could come out of you as a leader (or employee) tuning in on your dreams. Unconscious dynamics between you and your colleagues/employees is another. E.g., how much you succumb to pressure.
But also, just how much better you are than what you tell yourself when awake. Finding the courage to be the leader you want to be. Plus of course, identifying just how stressed you are, before it’s too late.
Better, more fruitful board meetings
It goes without saying that the fear of “not having what it takes” also travel into boardrooms. The fear might be even higher there, as suddenly we compare ourselves (and our feeling of inadequacy) to others equally high up in the hierarchy (do know, that they feel the same way as you, only, it’s nothing you talk about at those meetings).
This might result in many “talking heads” defending their ego at the meetings. Endless discussions and no decisions. And of course, dare I say, the upholding of the old leadership paradigm where “traditional, masculine leadership-style” (practiced by men and women) is deeply and unconsciously practiced. But this is something for another newsletter. Dreams are incredibly awesome in helping us blend yin and yang in our leadership, and in our life.
Imagine a boardmeeting where most had confronted and worked with the fear of not having what it takes. Had fully understood that they are worth more than their title and the status that comes along with it (when you truly get this, you are also suddenly not afraid of getting fired, and that is something that makes you a better leader).
Further, it would be a boardmeeting, where most had discovered just how unconsciously soaked they are in the “old ways”. Now that is a board meeting I would like to attend.
Embarking on the journey of dreamwork requires an open mind, curiosity, and a willingness to explore the depths of the unconscious. While it may seem unconventional, the rewards can be profound—both on a personal and professional level.
Here’s to dreaming big and leading with purpose.
P.s. I would love to inspire your leadership network or your team / employees on Dream Power (deep personal insight is just one element of it, wild creativity in problem solving and innovation another). Check out my website: https://michaelrolsen.com (Danish: https://michaelrohde.dk) – or contact me at email@example.com (I can then also send you someting to forward internally).
*Robert Stickgold (Harvard University) and Antonio Zadra (Montreal University), When brains dream – Understanding the science and mystery of our dreaming minds, Norton 2021
***Hill et. al. 2013
***Schredl, Michael, et al. “Work-Related Dreams: An Online Survey.” Clocks & Sleep, vol. 2, no. 3, Sept. 2020, pp. 273+. Gale Academic OneFile,
Dreamwork in leadership, deep personal insight as a leader, consciousness in leadership