A question we have heard from so many senior leaders recently is, “What do we do with our ambition now that our business is in survival mode?”
How each of us answers that question, for ourselves and for our organization, will define our level of success both during this crisis and after it has passed. To win the future we want, we must start creating it now. And we can’t do that without ambition.
This idea is central to exceptional performance. Ambition keeps leaders and their people connected to their most extraordinary goals—the ones that are not incremental but game-changing. Unlikely to happen on their own, the prospect of reaching these goals can be both daunting and energizing. They are essential to how companies reach new heights.
Despite the challenges of our current moment, as leaders we all still have a vision that we want to realize. We all still have confidence in what our organization can achieve. But in a situation like this, what happens to the momentum we used to have?
Across all sectors, most of us now find ourselves focused on urgent issues—the health of our business, the stability of the economy, the need to innovate. Our reality is colored by changing customer habits, disrupted supply chains, and abundant uncertainty. In this context, the goals of yesterday can seem less relevant.
But if we don’t keep our ambition alive, it doesn’t exist. All leaders want to have a strong business when the clouds have lifted—maybe even a more prosperous one than before. Choosing that version of the future is something that any company can do by keeping their ambition close at hand.
One of our long-time clients, the Ohlthaver & List Group of Namibia, has recently taken necessary steps to sustain itself like many other organizations. But CEO Wessie van der Westhuizen sees the company’s fate as being “dependent on our ability to gear our businesses in line with our purpose,”1 “creating a future, enhancing life.”2 To stay alive, they’ve had to cut costs and adapt to new operational realities, but at the same time committed to a “desire to save as many jobs as possible.”3 In one city, multiple divisions pooled their resources to provide meals and clothing to those in need.4 Even in the face of a “grave situation,” Executive Chairman Sven Thieme refused to compromise on what the company stands for, saying, “It is our moral obligation to our people, our communities and our country to do everything possible to get through this crisis so that we collectively create the future.”5
Our constraints often appear to be a function of what is happening around us. They seem beyond doubt. In reality, how we describe our situation is what constrains us.
If we believe there was only ever one way to deliver the outcome we envisioned for our business, and if we believe that that path is now gone, we find ourselves in a cage. We put the people we lead in a cage, too.
It takes a shift in mindset to question our assumptions about what is constraining us. But the good news is, when we become willing to reframe our situation and describe it in new ways, we open up vast avenues for innovation and creative thinking.
Becoming aware of our constructs gives us the power to free ourselves. It lets us move past crisis-mode thinking and avail ourselves of our most brilliant thinking, our genius. In turn, we can then access new possibilities for how to reframe our leadership and the situation, and deliver breakthrough outcomes for our company.
More than ever before, it is vital that we give ourselves permission to reinvent our organization’s path as we go. Keeping our ambition alive helps make that choice constantly available to us.
1. “O&L Group responds to COVID-19 impacts.” 17 Apr. 2020. https://www.ol.na/ol-group-responds-covid-19-impacts
2. “Strand Hotel Swakopmund and PnP Namibia – a beacon of light and hope to the hungry.” 5 Apr. 2020. https://www.ol.na/strand-hotel-swakopmund-and-pnp-namibia-beacon-light-and-hope-hungry
3. “O&L Group responds.”
4. “Strand Hotel Swakopmund and PnP Namibia.”
5. “O&L Group responds.”