Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Professionally Ambitious

There was a time when I worked for a large multi-national company that was making aggressive inroads into Canada.  I was a young, eager, hungry and tireless manager competing with countless others for the next promotion, and the one after that.

In a well established company, that level of ambition is a little harder to find.  Perhaps it's because everyone has a different start date (as opposed to the thirty of us who all began on the same day; surveying the room and and sizing up the competition).  Perhaps it's because opportunity comes less often when a business is growing slowly, or not at all.  Perhaps it's because there isn't a culture of ambition.

Whatever the case, I know two things to be true.
  • Professionally ambitious people are rare.  I'm not talking about people who want a bigger salary, longer title, or a corner office.   I'm talking about people who feel it their moral professional duty to take on more responsibility for the good of the company, and for the good of their careers, and because they know no other way.   Those people are hard to find.
  • If someone has expressed an interest to move out of their current position and up in the company, the leadership ignores him/her at their own peril.  They've basically given their notice by expressing a desire to move on, so the question has to be asked, "when he leaves this current position, will it be for another in this company, or for one at a competing company?"
If it doesn't matter, hasten the departure and help him to find a new job elsewhere, fast.  If we can honestly answer the question "do I want this guy competing against us?" with a "who cares?", then let him go.  

If he's worth saving, but not quite ready for promotion, then the leadership has a moral professional duty to 
  • acknowledge the ambition
  • redirect the ambition if necessary
  • harness the ambition if a promotion isn't immediately in the cards
  • encourage the ambition 
  • support the ambition by working with the employee on a professional development plan
Most of all, we have the obligation,as leaders, to take our subordinates seriously.  If we don't, someone else will.  

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