Leadership Development – Do Your Ambitions Limit You?

by Wayne Sharer

International speaker, author, and entrepreneur. Retired navy officer, former commanding officer. Over 35 years of leading, coaching, mentoring, and speaking.

December 29, 2018

Are you ambitious?

What does it mean to you to have ambition?

Is it the same for you as for those we see as leaders?

I see a lot of writing today focusing on which generation is more ambitious. Do Millenials have more or less ambition than earlier generations like the Baby Boomers or Generation X’ers? But the problem with these rests with what ambition is.

The dictionary says ambition is a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work. In fact, different dictionaries have similar meanings, some stronger than this in the Oxford version.

The important aspect is no reference to generations exists when defining ambition.

When I was first commissioned in the Navy, my ambitions to achieve focused on goals.

You might think, “What’s wrong with that?”

In general, nothing is wrong with it if you don’t mind being limited. But for leaders to develop, they must have bigger ambitions.

Let me explain…

How to Not Limit Your Ambitions for Leadership Development

Most of us enter our professional careers taught to set and achieve goals. These become our ambitions as each goal is something requiring hard work and determination.

But goals can be limits. They are definitive.

I realized this when I was working toward my first qualifications in the E-2C Hawkeye aircraft. My first goal was to achieve the Air Control Officer qualification.

If this qualification was my ambition, then I was finished when I achieved it.

Another goal was to become the division officer of the avionics division in my squadron. This was a highly sought position, and when I achieved it, my ambition for job assignments would be complete.

I soon realized, these goal achievements were not my ambitions. They were good goals, but they were not end-games. They were stepping-stones.

What I wanted was endless growth.

Realizing Your True Ambitions as a Leader

I suffer from anxiety disorders which can be limiting for those that allow it to be. Many with similar conditions are controlled by these anxieties. But I was also driven by an internal desire to succeed. I would not fail at all costs to myself. Beating the anxieties was painful and required an excessive amount of my energy.

Had I permitted my anxieties to control me, I would have let these goal achievements serve as my ambitions. It would have been so much easier that way. But I couldn’t do that.

Growth was my real ambition. I wanted to grow to be the leader. I realized that at certain points, my goals may be restricted by my experience. But, I knew my experience would grow, so my leadership position could grow as well, with or without disruptive anxieties.

The limit would come when I stopped seeking growth and stopped fighting my anxieties.

Leadership Development Requires Ambitions Go Beyond Goals

To be the leader, the person with the vision to succeed, you do need goals.

But don’t allow goals to be your ambition. Seek growth because growth doesn’t end where goals do.

After you achieve each goal, you need another. If your ambition is a particular goal, you’re done when you reach that goal.

Leaders are never done. They seek growth. Growth moves in various directions. Even when you finish one career, as a leader, you will want more.

My growth never stops. Others can put barriers in my path, but there’s always a way for me to grow. A leader’s ambition is endless growth.

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