The tension of Ambition

There are a number of things in our lives that live in tension. As leaders, most of us are ambitious by nature, and this seems to be a constant source of tension. Not necessarily bad tension, but tension none the less.

Ambition. Seen by many as a negative word- way too secular and worldly. Not something that always gets mentioned at the annual church or non-profit awards banquet when introducing the volunteer of the year. There's lots of evidence of bad ambition in our worlds- too many ambitious folks we know have ended up burning out, burning up, or leaving a path of destruction.

If you are a leader, especially a type A, you feel this constantly. I know I do. Wanting to move forward and conquer the next hill, but also knowing that the greatest way to get there is not necessarily by leaving everyone around you in the ditch. Many times it seems the best way to make something happen is to do it myself- a classic sign of the ambitious type. The question is what does GOOD ambition look like? Ambition that allows for things to happen, for new ideas to be launched, teams to excel, etc. 

For me, I have learned a couple of ways to try and manage the tension, and the best way to explain is with a concentric circle model- what I consider the Inner, Middle, and Outer Circle Influence principle. First, I have a few folks around me who keep me in check regarding my ambitions- this is the inner circle. Why are you doing this? Is this for the organization's benefit or for your own? Who will be impacted by this decision, and in a positive or negative way? How are you growing as a leader? Second, I try to make sure that my leadership is accessible as possible to those I interact with regularly- both to my team as well as to partners, vendors and associates-this is the Middle Circle. I have learned (and watched) that many times ambition goes sour and turns negative when Type A leaders push everything in their lives towards being as private as possible. This is a mistake. It doesn't mean that you have to broadcast every part of your life, but it does mean that you should be upfront and authentic with those around you, especially those you are working with or partnering with on a regular basis. Third, don't worry about what others say who don't know you- this is the Outer Circle. Many of us struggle with ambition because we are trying to please or gain credibility with people who really don't matter or ultimately could care less. And too much of our energy gets used on trying to get noticed by those on the far outside of our "influence" circle. Stick to the basics.

Hope that is helpful.