“He who sacrifices his conscience to ambition burns a picture to obtain the ashes.” Chinese Proverb
While we often demonize those who show clear ambitions, it is not clear whether ambition per se has a good or bad quality. Ambition itself is not a behavior…it is a drive. When that drive is to do great things for the benefit of others, it is seen as a strong positive attribute. When the drive is solely for the purpose of ego and self-achievement, it is an uncontrolled and damaging characteristic. For a leader to successfully propel her team through the vision of what can be, ambition is a necessary component of her psyche.
The danger of ambition comes when it takes the place of priorities that are more, or at least equally,
important. Ambition sometimes comes at the expense of values, which then creates a need for rationalization. The leader argues that what he is doing is what is necessary to succeed, even when followers, colleagues and self-reflection would say otherwise.
For ambition to drive us to reach our full potential, it has to be grounded in a solid foundation…the foundation of values and personal beliefs. Conscience is our internal compass of what is right and wrong. When we give up values to achieve ambitions, we create a non-sustainable short-term situation. Our conscience informs us that we are sacrificing more than we are gaining. Leaders who consider their ambitions and values to be inseparable are the leaders who have the integrity to succeed over the long-term and are the leaders that are desperately needed today.