Ambition is Great Until it’s Not

leadership ambition

Faced with increased competition, a global IT company recognized it needed to bring disruptive technology to market to maintain a competitive advantage. The CTO brought together the company’s chief engineers and asked for their recommendations on which technology to pursue. Each of the chief engineers at the table made an impassioned argument as to why the technology they and their team had been working on was the one the company should choose.

Looking around the table and listening to arguments made, it was clear that the ambition that had helped each of the chief engineers get to where they were today could erode the competitive advantage the company needed to hold on to. Not one of the engineers at the table was thinking about the needs of the company or customers; rather, they were thinking about their personal ambitions – and budgets. The chosen technology would receive significant funding, and those not chosen would either be shelved or have their R&D budget reduced. 

The more time I spent with this company, the more I witnessed this dynamic. Across the company, the ambitions of individuals and siloed teams were working against the collective good. While personal ambitions and aspirations play an important role in professional growth and development, they can also create blind spots. When these blind spots become such that the collective good becomes secondary, there is a problem. 

For the global IT company, the dynamic I saw play out across the company and the blind spots created by this dynamic ultimately played a role in its bankruptcy.

What can you do?

As CEO, it is critical that your leaders have an enterprise mindset. Therefore, you must ensure individual ambition does not eclipse the collective good of the organization and erode your competitive advantage. What this comes down to is culture, governance structure, and objectivity.


As CEO, you shape the organization’s culture through talent development and selection. When you promote and reward leaders who work towards the common good, you foster a culture with a strong commitment to a shared purpose. The result is leaders who will be more likely to place the enterprise’s success over their personal ambitions and decisions optimized for the enterprise strategy.


As CEO, your governance process must reinforce your strategy rather than divert it. Your governance process and the decision-making hierarchy must give you visibility into the investments, trade-offs, and choices that could redirect your enterprise strategy without you knowing it. You also need to determine the behaviors you will reward and the behaviors that can disqualify someone from having too much authority and too much discretion over how m