Imagine a generation of leaders that continuously aims for the moon with their strategies, seeking to shape their organizations and industries, with a quest for ongoing innovation. Well, that describes a growing number of today’s leaders.
Previously, ambition may have been the weakest link in terms of strategy. The ability of leaders to set ambitious goals and craft new visions, may have once set the limit of achievement. But, not today!
Now, the primary challenge is to deliver on the ambition – delivering on the many priorities, projects and initiatives that are competing for scarce time, attention and resources.
Defining Leadership in 2024
Discussions on leadership over the past 14 months, have been dominated by topics such as engagement, quiet quitting, performance paranoia, and hybrid working. So much so that you could be forgiven for thinking that these subjects define the current era of leadership.
Although significant, engagement or hybrid working, are not the most interesting or important feature of leadership today. What is much less talked about, but more significant in defining the present era of leaders is ambition.
Growing Leadership Ambition
Leaders have long been told to dream big and to ‘shoot for the moon'. They have been advised to set big hairy and audacious goals. Clearly, they have listened. Because that is exactly what they have been doing!
From our conversations with leaders, we have come to the conclusion that: This is probably the most ambitious generation of leaders, yet!
Here is what our research conversations with senior leaders reveal:
- Growth outlook is up – 6 out of 10 leaders expect higher growth, 16% expect 10% plus growth.
- Appetite for risk is up for 3 out of 10 leaders and remained static for 5 of 10. It fell for just 16%.
- Leaders expect massive change and disruption of 73% and, at 60% readiness today. They are up for ongoing transformation.
Wall Street with Silicon Valley Ambition
This is the kind of ambition you might expect from Venture Capital backed startups in tech or bio. Yet, these leaders are working in large established organizations, often in complex and highly regulated industries. That is what makes it so interesting. As one of our coaches says ‘It is like moving Wall Street to Silicon Valley!' It does give rise to a serious question however:
Q: How can leaders in big corporations deliver start-up levels of ambition and change?
The By-product of Ambition
In ambitious organizations, it is inevitable that there would be more priorities, projects and initiatives than available resources. The result is that many leaders find themselves playing whack-a-mole with priorities, projects and initiatives. No sooner do they scrap one project, but another appears.
Today there is growing recognition of project proliferation as a by-product of ambition and innovation, perhaps even its downside. Despite widespread efforts at consolidation, 8 out of 10 leaders say there are too many projects and initiatives competing for scarce time, attention and resources.
Naturally, this leaves leaders wondering: Is there sufficient organizational capacity to deliver the number and scale of initiatives planned and underway?
Making things Happen within Large Organizations
In terms of ambition, leaders have been aiming for the moon with their strategies. Now they need to come down to earth to make them happen.
When it comes to the reality of working in a large and busy organization, making things happen can present challenges.
Greater speed, agility, collaboration and innovation is required, but that may mean going to battle with bureaucracy, hierarchy, silos and traditional ways of working.
Meeting the demands of this boundless ambition stands as the foremost challenge in contemporary leadership. It is crucial to reiterate: the primary challenge isn't hybrid working, quiet quitting, or the theater of productivity. While these issues have garnered headlines, they do not take the top spot in terms of opportunities or challenges that confront leadership today.
The Execution Challenge
Many large long-established organizations have VC-backed start-up levels of ambition, but they often lack the same speed, agility and innovation. That is the execution challenge facing leaders in delivering on so much ambition.
Making it happen and getting stuff done is emerging as the number one priority for organizations in delivering on their ambitions.
If you are an ambitious leader who is juggling multiple priorities and projects, why not talk to us.