The authors of the book Higher Ambition: How Great Leaders Create Economic and Social Value, interviewed engaged with, and learned from 36 CEOs from around the world who have succeeded in creating value that sustains their companies in the short term and the long term. Indeed, their experiences prove it is possible for large corporations to consistently deliver superior economic and social value even in the face of headwinds from capital markets, rapidly changing technology, and unrelenting competition.
This page presents a basic primer the concepts you will find in the book. This site has an even more expansive vision than the book. Thus while it incorporates much of the original material, the site is organized differently to better incorporate the complementary research and practices of numerous individuals and organizations.
Successful higher-ambition leaders must both master the traditional disciplines of general management and take each of these to a higher level. These are: strategy development, performance management, organizational development, human resource development, and personal leadership.
Strategy Development: Forge a strategic identity rooted in core capabilities, mission and values
Like all general managers, higher-ambition CEOs face the challenge of crafting and executing on a winning strategy. However, these leaders are distinctive in their realization that the most powerful foundations for enduring competitive advantage are the collective aspirations and capabilities of their people. By developing a new, more powerful understanding of their firm’s unique character, capabilities, and organizational strengths, these leaders produce something that is more than strategy in the traditional sense. We think of it as a company’s strategic identity. This strategic identity goes to the heart of how a company’s people understand their collective strengths, and goes beyond advertising and marketing to shape how the company is actually viewed by customers, suppliers, and the public—its true and authentic brand image.
Higher-ambition leaders engage in three core practices to forge a powerful strategic identity:
- Craft a strategic identity that connects head, hands and heart
- See organizational capability as strategy
- Commit yet adapt
Performance Management: Build a shared commitment to excel — delivering on promises to all stakeholders
Having a higher ambition is one thing, but it’s quite another to actually deliver on the promise of creating superior economic and social value quarter after quarter and year after year. To do so requires that leaders throughout the organization commit to raising aspirations and performance expectations. As Tim Solso, then CEO of Cummins, explained, “it is not enough for a company’s people to have a ‘best efforts’ mind-set, in which they say to themselves, ‘I’m smart, I work hard, I did everything I could, and that’s the best I can do,’ as opposed to, ‘Did I do what I said I was going to do?’”
To ensure that their organizations are able to deliver on this promise of sustained high performance, higher-ambition leaders promulgate four key practices:
- Create a culture of mutual accountability
- Earn the right to lead
- Build the future one quarter at a time
- Focus on the fundamentals that drive sustainable success
Organizational Development: Create a diverse community of purpose that energizes and aligns people as they lead
Higher-ambition leaders place great emphasis on developing their organizations as global communities that create a sense of belonging that transcends business and functional differences, as well as professional, ethnic, cultural, and national identities. These leaders have learned that creating a strong social fabric is fundamental to the health of the enterprise and to its financial success. The threads of this fabric—informal relationships across geographies and functions—make collaborating worldwide far easier.
The ability of higher-ambition leaders to create vibrant global communities is fundamental to the success they achieve. In renewing and strengthening these communities, these leaders:
Unleash the energy and commitment of their people to the overall success of their firms by:
- Giving voice to personal aspirations and values
- Establishing a meaningful higher purpose
Reduce organizational friction and enhance collaboration across the enterprise by:
- Strengthening connections across boundaries
- Making diversity a source of advantage
Human Resource Development: Unlock the collective leadership capabilities of their teams and those around them
Higher-ambition leaders invest a disproportionate amount of their time in forming an aligned core team at the top and in developing an extended group that can provide distributed leadership across the organization, both now and into the future. Though they themselves are strong individuals, they use their strengths to develop their own teams and hundreds of other leaders to build a culture of commitment and performance throughout the company.
To build such a leadership system, higher-ambition leaders practice four key principles:
- Build a true team at the top
- Align down-the-line leadership
- Drive career development
- Develop next-generation leadership
Personal Leadership: Lead with “Sisu” — staying the course quarter after quarter, year after year
Behind the unique aspects of personal character and specific company context, higher-ambition leaders have a distinctive quality, which we believe is best captured by the Finnish word, sisu. Sisu refers to the courage, will, perseverance, and endurance that allow a person to do such things as walk for hours in meter-deep snow with the hope and conviction that there is a warm house at the end of the journey. Sisu also refers to becoming strong together—as a collective—and to something internal, an inner strength that helps you to keep focused through danger and hard times and that helps you to relentlessly pursue a distant goal. In Finland, sisu is more than a characteristic, it is a virtue. Jorma Ollila, a Finn and former CEO and Chairman of Nokia, refers to sisu as “guts.”
There are four core practices that characterize higher-ambition leaders who lead with “sisu”:
- Presence: Engage and earn trust.
- Fairness: Establish a just process.
- Clarity: Keep it simple.
- Persistence: Stay the course.
To explore any of these topics in greater depth, read the book or search on keywords to find relevant material on the site.