26 September 2023

Top heavy? Why ambition shouldn’t be a dirty word

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Ashira Prossack* says too often ambition, especially in women, is seen as a negative, but leaders should be encouraging all employees to be as ambitious as possible.

Photo: Sweet Ice Cream Photography

When did ambition become a bad word?

Too often ambition, especially in women, is seen as something negative.

It’s time to flip the narrative and turn ambition into a good word again.

Leaders should be encouraging all employees to be as ambitious as possible.

Employees and entrepreneurs should be using ambition to highlight strengths and distinguish themselves.

It’s time for everyone to embrace ambition as a quality that’s not only desired but celebrated.

This conversation on ambition was a continuous theme in many of the panels at the American Express Global Women’s Summit held in May in New York City.

The conference covered many different subjects, and ambition found its way into most of them.

It’s such an important topic that there was even an entire panel dedicated to it.

The panellists and attendees, all senior level executives and highly successful business owners, agreed upon one thing — ambition is what helped to get them to the level of success they’re at today.

It starts with being ambitious for yourself and giving yourself permission to dream bigger.

Silence your inner critic when you start feeling self-doubt.

Define exactly what your ambition is and be as specific as possible about what it is that you want to achieve.

Broad ambition is great, but won’t help you reach your goals.

Use your ambition to push you and help you grow as a leader.

When you reach the top, use your ambition to help other women join you there.

One trend that emerged was that ambition is more than just personal.

There are actually two paths of ambition, and success is amplified when those paths converge.

One is internal, where you’re striving for personal success.

The other is external, where you’re striving for collective success.

External ambition can be anything from helping other people reach their goals to implementing large-scale change within your organisation.

To foster personal ambition, run towards challenges rather than away from them.

A common theme amongst the leaders who spoke at the conference was that their love of challenges fuelled their ambition.

They fully embraced their ambition and stood unabashedly by their dreams and goals.

They didn’t let doubt or naysayers knock them down.

Ambition, to them, was always a positive quality.

There were a few definitions of external ambition, but they all had the same underlying message — be in it for the greater good to benefit something bigger than yourself.

The main message was that your ambition should help both you and your organisation in a mutually beneficial way.

Think about what you want to achieve, and then figure out how you can tie that into a collective organisational goal.

This is applicable for any stage of your career whether you’re just getting started or already in the C-Suite.

If you’re aiming for a promotion, think about what you can do in that new role to help your organisation move forward, and make that part of your ambition.

It shows that you’re invested in the organisation as well as your own personal success and helps frame your ambition in a positive light.

Another idea that was discussed was how collective ambition can be used as an internal tool to help organisations achieve greater success.

Ambition can even become part of the organisation’s culture, where striving for success becomes an organisational mission.

This fosters an innovative environment that is particularly attractive to Millennials and will engage employees of all generations as well.

Simply put, ambition is a strong desire and determination to reach new goals.

Tie your personal ambition into a larger collective goal.

Turn that ambition outwards to something that will add value or make an impact at your organisation, or for your organisation if you’re in a senior role.

Adopt a lift as you climb mentality, and you’ll quickly realise that helping others helps you more than if you were to just do things on your own.

One thing is clear — we need to start embracing ambition and finding a source of power from the word.

* Ashira Prossack is a business and leadership coach. Her website is www.ashiraprossack.com.

This article first appeared at www.forbes.com.

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