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Big Ideas for Small Business Managers : All dynamic leaders have one thing in common: an unrelenting

7 September 2015 03:06 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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A pair of new books on Senator Hillary Clinton draws a portrait of a woman who is smart, shrewd and very ‘methodical’. Both books, one by Carl Bernstein (Her Way) and the other by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta, Jr. (A Woman in Charge), describe a woman bent on achieving her aims and very ambitious. In other words, she’s a politician. But consider what would a politician be without ambition? Someone standing on the sidelines watching others do 
the work!

Ambition is after all the inner drive that pushes someone to achieve. It is absolutely essential to leadership whether in politics or in the business sector. There never was an outstanding leader without ambition. It is the mainspring of all actions. Yet, so often, ambition is perceived as negative because it is how the politicians and business leaders channel that ambition as in putting the means to end ahead of the end. 

Ambition, however, can be a force for the good. For a corporate manager, here are some ways:

Use ambition to capitalize on opportunity. Sometimes opportunity is staring us in the face but we may not recognize it. Ambitious people look at the status quo and see ways to do things differently. It may be to develop a new product, a new process, or a new service. Looking to do things differently can be a force for the good. Good managers are folks who channel their ambition into looking for new opportunities.

Use ambition as a tool for change. Ambition may be the driver that challenges assumptions. Part of a leader’s responsibility is to identify the need for positive change and to usher in that change. It may provoke us to say why are we doing things this way? Asking the questions may stimulate debate and ultimately action that will cause new ideas.

Use ambition as a tool for personal growth, both yours and your subordinates’. Ambition is wanting to move to the next step. Fulfilling that dream may require more training, more thinking and more experience. Ambition can be the spark that pushes you to achieve your dream, often when hard work is involved.
Ambition by itself is neither positive nor negative. What you do with the drive, like all human drives, is what matters. If ambition causes you to cut corners ethics-wise so much so that you sacrifice integrity and values, then ambition can be destructive. Conversely, if you channel your ambition into fulfilling organisational goals that build a stronger and better company and do it in ways that help employees and customers, then ambition is positive.



Constructive ambition
Ambition is difficult to separate from courage. In analysing great leaders, it is generally impossible to decide which of their actions in the face of severe problems bore the mark of boldness or that of ambition. Both are characteristics of the truly outstanding leader.

It is constructive ambition and the intense desire to excel that stimulates ambition in others. The magic of winning always arouses determination, which gives momentum to the organisation. Therefore, nurturing positive ambition is another prime duty of the leader.

Yet, the unwelcome reality exists that unrestrained personal ambition does live on, with all its excesses and potentially harmful outcomes. It is uncontrolled raw ambition that destroys employees’ careers and the economic livelihoods of communities in which organisations operate. Such excesses and scandalous executives’ behaviour that decimated even the loftiest organisations came to light during the past decade.



Higher-ambition managers
Higher-ambition managers have led their companies to remarkable success, often in the face of daunting challenges. It doesn’t require heroics—but it does require a certain grit and a comprehensive approach to building strategies and the organisations that deliver them.

Here’s how higher-ambition leaders apply that approach: They forge a powerful strategic vision by drawing on an expansive view of their companies’ heritage and cultural, organisational and social assets. They build the widespread commitment and capabilities to achieve that vision by developing the organisations into communities of shared purpose, marked by high levels of emotional connection, trust and respect. They have the strength of character to commit themselves and their organisations to that vision over the long term.

By increasing trust and commitment, these leaders create a higher-energy, lower-friction organisation that can deliver greater economic value. With resources generated by improved financial performance, they build more social capital within the organisation and social value outside it, generating further economic value and spurring the organisation to even greater heights.



Do-gooders
The higher-ambitious managers are leaders who, for a variety of reasons - personal background, values and experience in the companies they’ve worked with - frame the job of management differently than the average leader. It starts with how they begin to think about the job of leading. They think of it as much broader than shareholder value. They have multi stakeholder goals. They want to add value not only to shareholders but to employees, customers, society and community. And they manage in a way that optimizes those multiple goals.

These are definitely not transactional managers. That is, they don’t think about the job of business as a single transaction. They think about building long-term relationships, building commitment among their stakeholders in those relationships and employing a collaborative mutual benefit kind of relationship—a relationship of trust—with all these stakeholders.

These leaders are different in many ways—not in their style so much or in their personalities but in their perspective. And that is what leads to a different way of managing. They’re different in the sense that they think of themselves as being part of a team and enabling a team, as opposed to thinking about themselves as heroic or as the centre of decision-making. They are anchored in a set of values and there is a large degree of authenticity in the way they go about managing. They know who they are and they continually understand that to reach for strength they need to back into themselves as opposed to looking outside to ask what to do.

They have integrity not only in the sense of honesty, which obviously is necessary but in the integration of their internal values and their actions. So they walk the talk. There is integrity in the sense that they integrate many aspects of the firm. They do what’s called  the simultaneous solve, which is solving a problem in a way that meets the goals of shareholders without undermining the needs of employees, and which builds value for them and for customers.



Hallmark
Strategic identity is one of the hallmarks of higher ambition leadership. These companies also generally follow relatively conservative business policies around debt and growth. The second way in which they drive sustainable performance is to create goals that are worthy, large and visionary. The writer knows of a successful higher-ambitious leader. Recently, when he took over a failing company, he basically set out three goals: “we’re going to be great in the marketplace”, “we’re going to win in the marketplace” and “we have to contribute to community”. Setting those kinds of goals energizes people. It creates meaning for what they do.

Third is building a community of shared purpose. These managers work very hard at defining and being clear about their values and their broad vision for the company. They do this by spending a lot of time communicating with people. 

(Lionel Wijesiri, a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience, can be contacted at lionwije@live.com)
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