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How to Harness Ambition



A recent article in the New York Times titled The Age of Anti-Ambition, describes our current workforce and the lack of emotional and mental commitment to our jobs. Across industries, people are feeling uninspired, quitting in droves, and reporting higher levels of dissatisfaction or depression.

In response to this mass exodus, we are increasing wages and creatively enticing new hires but this got me thinking… maybe we are targeting the wrong thing. For anyone in the workforce, I think we can all agree, the work itself draws you in, but it is the people and the culture that keeps you there.


As Dan Cable describes in an interview with Pete Mockaitis, people are wired to be curious and creative. As young children, we naturally explore and display wonder outside of what is in front of us. It is this curiosity and “seeking” that engages our mind and spirit. We are prewired to innovate and fueled by creativity and the autonomy of thought.


Knowing that conceptually think about the industrial revolution and how we began to automate work. In 1913 cars were built by teams, working together and collaborating. Along comes the assembly line, and while more cars we manufactured per hour and Henry Ford became wealthy, the workers had a different perspective. “The line was seen as an insult to skilled craftsmen and another example of the overwhelming patriarchal control a company could have over its workers…” (Smithsonian) This monotony stripped workers of their spirit and skill.


The trick is finding the balance between the bottom line and how to best engage and support your team.


We all have had days of performing repetitious tasks but I would guess it was your colleagues and culture that kept you inspired and motivated to continue. It is the allowance of independence, the energy of the people, and the spirit of the vision that engages us.


Active engagement is the frosting on the cake. Cake is good but, without frosting, it is just a muffin. We don’t celebrate our biggest moments with muffins, do we?


Hard work, long hours, and grueling tasks are something we are capable of as long as it is wrapped in inspiration, creativity, high energy, and appreciation.


I would challenge you to not blame the “work” on your high attrition rates, or low satisfaction scores. I would focus on what you are doing to drive connection, energy, and celebration of successes. Bring laughter back into the office, create a space for innovation and creativity, and foster inclusion of relationships and ownership. Allow your team to see the impact of their work and how it connects with the greater vision of your organization.


Routinely when someone says they are dissatisfied with their work what they actually mean is, I am uninspired, I am feeling taken advantage of or, I no longer derive energy from the place I spend most of my time. The problem is, they link the job duties with the culture so end up leaving both. This is where you come in, it is the responsibility of the leader to create an atmosphere in which talented trained people are inspired to thrive.


As the landscape of work changes i.e. working from home, hybrid meetings, and increased diversity and cultural exposure, the challenge will be how to create a working platform and energy connection when such diversity exists.


Some Ideas to Think About:

  • I was recently introduced to the idea of working in 6-week cycles rather than annual goals. This gives your team an opportunity to be nimble, innovative, react to changes within the industry, it keeps your vision attainable and allows for frequent celebrations (very important!) Here is the pdf of the book Shape Up which reviews this concept.

  • Andy Stanley interviewed Sangram Vajre on the idea of creating and integrating “belongship”, this is an excellent interview and inspiring perspective.

  • Gallop's research has shown that 70% of people are disengaged at work. In this episode of How to be Awesome at Your Job Dan Cable discusses how to rev up your aliveness at work and describes how this one-hour intervention can improve your attrition rate by 30%. This is a really amazing interview, I urge you to listen.

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