Steve Adlard | Conditional Dreaming

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Steve Adlard lives with his family in Coventry, England. He has 2 young children who constantly remind him he's still learning. He's the director of Motive Consulting Ltd which specialises in leadership and organisational development, building on a long career in organisational learning and before that, in telecommunications. He enjoys running, cycling, and taking any opportunity to climb a mountain, of which there are absolutely none in Coventry.  After reading Steve's thoughts, click through to his leadership and OD blog ( and say hello.


Who am I to write on a blog about dreams? I’m not the CEO of a high performing organisation, neither have I realised a childhood dream of excellence, or set any athletic records of note.

Me? I do ok.

So what I want to explore is the difficult ground between competence and dreams.

I admire those who overcome adversity, exclusion, discrimination or handicap to achieve great things beyond people’s expectations. It inspires us. Hopefully, it sends a message to others in similar oppressive situations to break free also, and keep the cycle of human achievement rolling.

But I was lucky enough not to be brought up in an adverse environment. It had its difficulties, but not a great threat. I enjoyed school and made good grades. Such that I went into an interesting career in telecommunications where I enjoyed great opportunity; I was planning comms systems in overseas territories where others were reluctant to go as creature comforts had not yet reached those parts of the world, and faraway travel was awesome for a lad from Yorkshire, England. I had great fun, but in the course of that first career, found that I loved developing people, leaders, teams and organisations, and made that my career for the last 20 years.

Lake districtLake Region, U.K.

So as I say, I do ok. In fact, I do pretty well. I’ve achieved some great results in that time. Former students have gone on to achieve great things too. I’ve had some awards, spoken at some cool conferences, and done work that I am very proud of. But for someone in that development environment, the finger has turned to point accusingly in my own direction. Am I achieving my potential? Am I fulfilling my dream?

There’s a brilliant and insightful poet called David Whyte, based in Washington (but also with Yorkshire roots – no bias I promise!) He describes us making conditional decisions around dreams; I’ll do that once the kids have grown; once I get a raise; when I have more time and so on. It’s clear that his message contains a warning of how easy it is for us to find reasons to keep a safe distance from our dreams: Enjoy the feel of them but hold a very rational barrier to actually committing to them.

And if we ‘do ok’, then that barrier is built stronger with our own competence. We are getting along fine thanks, we’re comfortable, and if we don’t rock our own boat there’s a good chance we’ll survive. On this territory there is no adversity to overcome; we need a different motivator.

Steve adlardSteve Adlard, Lake Country, U.K.

So for me, the question of potential is increasingly challenging. It’s become the motivator that is the increasing thorn in my side. Am I on track to look back on my career in 20 years’ time and say ‘Yes, I achieved everything I possibly could have’? Or will I look back and say, ‘I did ok, sometimes pretty well’, and be happy with that. ‘Potential’ is a word that has defined my view of my career with respect to other people. This year, I’m going to extend the scope to include myself. I think that’s important. In 12 months’ time, I don’t care if I’m still not the CEO of a major organisation, and there’s a good chance I won’t break any athletic records of note, but I know that I do want to be able to say I’m meeting my potential. I think it’ll be exciting.

So my commitment then: I promised Whitney that I’d provide a second post; this one in will follow in December 2012, and my challenge is to justify my year’s work. Whether I’m successful at achieving my potential or not, I’ll tell you.

I want that to be a really good post.


Have you ever considered the difference between being competent and fulfilling your potential?  How are they connected for you?

“How easy it is to keep a safe distance from our dreams.”

“If we do ok, we fortify with our competence a rational barrier to our dreams.”

It's rather serendipitous to me that I received Steve and Amelia Hertzberg‘s post at nearly the same time.  There's a clear commonality.

If you, like Steve and Amelia, would like the public accountability of committing to dream, ping me — and you can go on record.

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