History is full of the ambitious. The conquers, politicians, inventors, and military leaders filled our primary school history books. Bookshelves are full of the business titans explaining how you can follow in their footsteps to change the world.
After being the second to arrive at Antarctica's South Pole, Captain Robert Scott failed to return his men home safely. Alexander the Great identified as the son of Zeus-Ammon. Hitler started a World War. Enron leadership lied to increase profits. Athletes intentionally take performance enhancing drugs to win a race.
Shortly after Steve Jobs death, biographies began to appear highlighting the ambition of this modern icon. All agree his work has had a significant impact on the world; the debate will rage about his display of zeal.
Seeing the fatal flaw in another is easy. Looking in the mirror, we justify why we should bend the rules to achieve the goal, and it sounds righteous.
If history is any indication of the future, we are here for a flash in time, and there is more to come after we are gone than came before. There will be hundreds, thousands, or millions of years after we are dust to evaluate our contribution. (Authors note: that last sentence caused me to stop, think, and shudder about what matters.)
In his book, Good to Great, author Jim Collins, documents his surprise at how the data characterized the leader's ambition in high performing companies. The data revealed, "ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves." Mr. Collins goes on to describe ambitious leaders as "a study in duality: modest and willful, humble and fearless." Internet memes don't quote this line, it's not all that sexy, even though it is true.
Comfortable in my glass house; I have had my share of ambitions gone awry. The only difference is that I haven't had the wealth, power, or fame, to land me in the morning paper.
I embrace the duality of my drive to make a difference and the need for humility. I know my heart and have seen enough bad seeds of ambition to say with, martyr John Bradford, "there, but for the grace of God, go I."
Let's be ambitious!
Going Further: What are your calibration tools to ensure your ambition mirrors Jim Collins data?