Let me ask you a question. Imagine two individuals. They have the exact same education, training, work experience and backgrounds. Yet, one of them is far more successful than the other. Why do you suspect? Sure, we could make a statistical model to control for numerous variables or we could go with what I suspect – I suspect that one has more ambition than the other. One wants it more. The more successful person has that drive that is widely talked about and measured. But, the real question I want to ask you is how is that ambition instilled into their teams? How do they foster hustle into their organizations?
Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where we develop the resilient leader’s mindset by navigating difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.
Ambition can be confused with aspirations
In a recent study conducted by Judge and Kammeyer-Muller (2012), the meaning of ambition is explained as, “The persistent and generalized striving for success, attainment, and accomplishment.” They also note that ambition usually involves goal setting. It does, however differ from pure conscientiousness or the basic need to achieve.
Ambition can often be confused with aspirations, but it is important to see the difference between these two things. Aspirations involves striving towards a specific goal; whereas ambition is a trait. Ambition is behavior that manifests itself over an extended period of time. When someone is ambitious they continuously create new goals for themselves and pursue these goals with intent.
Ambition can be measured two ways write the authors. “Historically, some writers have viewed ambition as a good thing, because it seems to lead toward hard work and success. However, others have considered ambition a vice, because its over-emphasis on the pursuit of external wealth leads to inadequate emphasis on internal fulfillment and happiness.”
Here’s another way to look at it. Neel Burton writes, ambition is like the dangled carrot that goads the donkey that pulls the cart. Studies have found that, on average, ambitious people attain higher levels of education and income, build more prestigious careers, and, despite the nocuous effects of their ambition, report higher levels of overall life satisfaction. Owing to bad luck and poor judgement, most ambitious people eventually fall short of their ambitions, but that still lands them far ahead of their more unassuming peers. (Burton, n.d.)
This still doesn’t answer our question of having ambition permeate through our teams. Think of a rowing crew, an 8-man boat. Having one superb rower, one powerhouse stud in the stroke seat doesn’t make the boat move faster. The team needs to find both balance and excellence. Ambition on the part of one person serves only one person.
I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed, resilient leader theory on ambition. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here’s it is. Hustle Down The Line. You heard it. Hustle Down The Line.
Pete Rose earns his nickname
The theory is simple. Here’s how it works. In Little League baseball coaches and fathers would tell the players to run everything out. Hustle down the line. Basically, in Little League baseball anything can happen to a ball in play; the shortstop may bobble the ball, the third baseman may throw it to the wrong base, the right fielder might be picking daisies. You never know. By running everything out, you are forcing the hand of the other team to make decisions quicker. Hustle, in baseball, has something in common with COVID. It’s infectious. Watching someone hustle down the line inspires others to hustle for balls in the gap and to back up other people fielding. No one in baseball exemplified hustle more than Pete Rose. Maybe that’s why he got the nickname Charlie Hustle. Actually, he got the nickname in a 1963 exhibition game. Mickey Mantle send a ball soaring high over the right field fence. Everyone knew it was gone from the second it left the bat. Everyone except Charlie Hustle. Pete Rose was playing right field. At the crack of the bat he sprinted to the right field fence, timed his jump, stretched to the maximum of his 5’ 11’ frame and watch the ball sail over his head for another 100 feet. Mantle was astonished at how hard Rose tried on a ball that there was never a chance of catching. Charlie Hustle. Another example, when Pete Rose walked, which he did over 1,500 times in his career, he didn’t walk to first. Charlie Hustle dropped his bat and sprinted to first base. Every time.
Does this make everyone sprint to first base? No, but watching someone beat out a throw to first inspires the bench to improve their efforts. I’ve been in the dugout and I can tell you that effort is infectious. However, the effort can be just for yourself. It has to be for the team. An effort on behalf of the team, ambition for the sake of the team is what will foster enthusiasm through the ranks.
Robert DeNiro, acting as Al Capone, put it this way in the movie The Untouchables. I will leave out the fact that DeNiro hit someone over the head with a baseball bat after that talk. Let’s just stay with the message. At the plate you are an individual. In the field, you need to be part of the team.
How can companies apply this logic? How can we get all our little leaguers to hustle down the line? Let’s use the Four Seasons hotel chains as an example. Following the great recession, Katie Taylor became the new CEO. Business, as you can imagine, was significantly down as discretionary spending for elite resort accommodations evaporated.
Taylor created an initiative called “Who gets to be a leader around here?” The aim was to transform what had been a relatively informal approach to promoting people into a robust system for evaluating potential and performance and making promotions on the basis of them. As Taylor put it: “We have 34,000 employees who get up every morning thinking about how to serve our guests even better than the day before. So while all of this trouble is swirling around us, our brand promise of providing the most exceptional guest experience wherever and whenever you visit us is instilled in the hearts and minds of our dedicated employees. They are the ones who fulfill that promise day in and day out.”
Remarkable experiences stay with customers
Doesn’t this sound like a great way to spread ambition throughout an organization? Quick show of hands – can you think back to a pre-COVID hotel stay where someone made a significant effort to improve the quality of your experience? My magic mirror shows me that many of you can. Those remarkable experiences stay with us as customers and we tell other people about them. This is what team ambition can do. Create remarkable experiences that benefit the company and the client.
The point today is to hustle down the line. Run everything out. Make the extra effort to improve client satisfaction. Or as Van McCoy might say….ooooh a-oooh. You should have guess that this was coming. Do it! Do the hustle.
Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging currents and it is tough navigating, but with one tack or another we can get there together.
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