We all believe that ambition is an important ingredient for success, and now there’s some data to back it up.

Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, became fascinated with the idea of creating high-quality running shoes while running track in college. In his book, Shoe Dog, Knight describes how so many around him thought that starting a running shoe company was crazy. Despite competition from established companies and a lack of finances, Knight was ridiculously ambitious to bring his vision of a next generation shoe company to life. From a meager $50 borrowed from his parents, Mr. Knight built a business valued at over $100 billion this past year.  In looking at motivational drivers, individuals who are ambitious are likely driven by challenge or a motivation to achieve in the face of tough obstacles.

A new research from Korn Ferry shows that highly compensated executives are 1.4 times more likely to score high in Ambition than other executives. The discrepancy is even bigger among the broader workforce. The most highly compensated individual contributors are 2.5 times more likely to score high in Ambition than their modestly compensated counterparts.

Highly compensated executives are 1.4 times more likely to score high in Ambition. Click To Tweet

A successful organisation won’t just hope that people with ridiculously high levels of ambition walk in the door. Savvy leaders will learn to recognise it in potential recruits and nurture it with existing employees to the benefit of the company and the individuals. In our new paper, Unleashing ‘ridiculous’ ambition, we highlight several people who have displayed ridiculous ambition along with ways organisations can promote and challenge highly ambitious employees.

While hiring highly ambitious people is generally a good thing, organisations should also look for complementary qualities, the study found. People who do not combine a high need for achievement with tendencies toward affiliation, adaptability, and consensus building can create problematic environments for teams.

The study, which looked at ambition in such diverse figures as Mother Teresa and Steve Jobs, analysed more than 30,000 results from the Korn Ferry Four Dimensions of Leadership & Talent assessment. It found four tactics to maximise the effectiveness of highly ambitious employees.

1. Assess your employees early in their tenure.

Understand quickly who exhibits those markers for very high achievement. These individuals are game changers, they know no obstacles, and they actually can and do end up changing the world. The ability for organisations to identify, harness, and nurture this level of ambition is significant. Realise, however, that the most ambitious might not always be those who currently lean in the loudest.

2. Strategically align projects and roles that can focus your employee’s ambitions.

This is one important way to accelerate business outcomes while decreasing unwanted attrition in high achievers or those around them.

3. Provide coaching.

Giving your high achievers opportunities to round out their leadership qualities will help both the company and the employee.

4. Develop a long-term career path with them.

You can help retain your high achievers if they can see how excelling at your organisation will satisfy their need to consistently reach new heights.

Ultimately there’s no substitute for high levels of ambition—either on a personal or an organisational level. The key is to align one’s deepest ambition (or an employee’s deepest ambition) with a pathway for attaining the grand prize. Creating this alignment can unleash that ridiculous ambition and ignite tremendous effort and achievement to change the world.

To learn more read: Unleashing ‘ridiculous’ ambition

Speak to our experts

About Contributor

Simon looks after Hay Group's services business in New Zealand and works with HR leaders from all industries and sectors to achieve real-world results through their people.

Leave a Reply