Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
February 2015   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Powerful Ambition

"Power is a tool. It allows us the freedom to be who we truly are." Erwin McManus.

Ambition gets a bad rap, at times deservedly so. But the question is not whether ambition is good or bad but whether it is selfish or selfless. One way or the other, ambition is a powerful force that drives change and underpins accomplishment.

Let's begin by reaffirming that all great leadership is sacrificial. The leader wields power, and power is a necessary tool that must always be used it in the service of the team and its mission. Power reveals the character of leaders. For the best leaders team and mission always come before personal interests - the leader's interests always come last.

It has been said that motivations, drive actions and actions create outcomes. Motivations and the power to do something about them are a potent partnership. Honourable motivations drive honourable actions and outcomes. Dishonourable motivations... well you know what they produce. The formula also works in reverse: outcomes generally help us understand actions and reveal motivations. I believe this can be said of ambition - among the most powerful of motivators. Let's look at the two variations of ambition, and the actions and outcomes they produce.

The less common and inspiring form of ambition is selfless. Nobel Peace Prize recipient Martin Luther King Comes to mind. By any standard pursuing a dream to see racial segregation ended was ambitious. It was an unselfish ambition intended to benefit not just one race but to pull down the barriers and hatred that split a nation. So powerful was King's ambition that it motivated him to a life of hardship and risk. As we know, he gave his life for it. When a leader is driven by selfless ambition the outcomes always benefit others. This type of ambition is inspiring, invites trust and becomes a powerful force for good.

The more common form, and that which correctly gets a bad rap, is selfish ambition. Alberta politics has recently given us an example in the floor crossing of nine elected representatives, including the party leader. If we go back to outcomes as a reliable indicator of motivations it's hard to accept this as a case of mistaken motivations. The move has been widely criticized by people of all political stripes. A host of commentators have described the widespread betrayal experienced by those who believed in and supported the Wildrose dream. This kind of ambition breaks trust and is a big reason so many people are so cynical about leadership.

The best leaders are always ambitious people, so are the very worst. The use their positions their power and their influence to improve the situations of others. The worst use the same advantages to improve the situation for themselves - to feather their own nests. For the best leaders people are the purpose of leadership; for the worst they are the means to an end.

Ambition is a powerful force. In and of itself neither good or bad, a force channeled in one direction or the other by the heart of the leader. Want more on power and ambition, check out chapter 12 of my book, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When have you experienced an ambitious leader, what was the goal and how did the leader affect those who followed?
  2. What is your ambition, where is it focused and will it stand the test of power?

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
February 2015   |   By Dan Gaynor


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The Big Question, September 2016

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Mentoring in the Moment, January 2016

Sacrificial Leadership, December 2015

5 Tactics For Better Meetings, November 2015

Leader as Follower, October 2015

Dynamic Balance, September 2015

Fearless Humility, August 2015

Fear and Accountability, July 2015

Building a Feedback Culture, June 2015

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Confront or Avoid?, Apr. 2015

The Heart of Accountability, Mar. 2015

Powerful Ambition, Feb. 2015

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Ralphie and the Strategic Approach, Dec. 2014

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