Ambition is an important leadership trait, but should it carry as much as weight as it does in decisions about whom to promote? Too little ambition can lead to stagnant leadership team, but too much ambition can create a toxic environment. How do we promote a more balanced, sustainable leadership culture?
There are generally two types of ambitious leaders in the workplace. Type one is vocal about their accomplishments, their value, and their aspirations they tend to be ambitious about their careers, so they seek out low-risk opportunities to rack up the personal wins. Type two is vocal about their team’s accomplishments, focuses their time and attention on their team, and advocates for their needs they tend to be ambitious about the team’s success and are willing to take personal risks to get a win for the team.
If you put it to a vote, most employees would prefer to be led by a type two leader. Unfortunately, many type twos fly below the radar, because they are not seen as being as ambitious as type one leaders.
What passes for outward signs of ambition is often egocentric behavior-such as self-promotion, politicking, padding their scores, and burnishing their personal brand. Selfish behavior among leaders is a common root cause of team dysfunctions, corrupted decision-making, and gridlock. When we encounter a "toxic organizational culture," we inevitably find that the leadership team is over-represented by type one leaders who care more about their own ambitions than they do about the team’s success.
So, if you want more competent, self-less leaders, what do you do?
In this webinar, we'll discuss several techniques that HR and business leaders can use to promote a sustainable leadership culture. We'll explore the role of core values, competency models, 360 assessments, self-awareness, bias reduction, talent reviews, and career development, and how they need to integrate with talent management practices in order to be successful.
We tend to think that ambition is easy to spot, and so it has become a handy gauge for leadership potential. Many talent management systems tend to identify highly ambitious individuals as high potentials and put them on a fast track to senior leadership, while overlooking other leaders who are less outwardly ambitious but no less capable. When we privilege ambition in this way, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby ambitious individuals rise through the ranks quickly to become senior leaders, who in turn want to promote others like themselves.
Personal ambition, however, tends to run counter to the traits that promote greater collaboration, engagement, empathy, and resilience, which are critical attributes of a sustainable leadership culture. So, if want to avoid building a toxic leadership culture and instead promote a more sustainable one, we need to make sure that we are promoting for talent and manage our bias for ambition.