climbing photoHaving 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. This is the work of leaders.

Developing yourself as a higher ambition leader involves discovering your true purpose — what impact you want to have with your life — and using your work as one channel for realizing that purpose. It is more than making the quarterly numbers or achieving a business objective. Those are both important but higher ambition leadership is about the long haul. Is your leadership helping to make the world a better place now — and after you are gone? Are you using each day to build an enduring legacy of positive contributions in the lives of stakeholders?

Such leadership requires both passion for a long-term goal and the tenacity to pursue it over a lifetime. We use the Finnish word Sisu to describe it. While there is no fully nuanced translation of Sisu, a literal translation is “having guts.” Leaders displaying Sisu persevere when they encounter obstacles. They are resilient.

Higher ambition leaders also invest significant time and effort in developing leadership throughout their organizations. That topic is discussed in greater depth in Organizations & Culture.


Some suggestions to get you started are below. You may also search on “Leadership” to see the full array of what is available.

Higher-ambition CEOs have led their companies to remarkable success, often in the face of daunting challenges, say Nathaniel Foote, Russell Eisenstat, and Tobias Fredberg in The Higher Ambition Leader in Harvard Business Review: Doug Conant brought Campbell Soup, whose stock price had suffered a steep three-year decline, back to life by focusing on a business everyone thought was dying: condensed soup. After a failed merger, Leif Johansson tripled Volvo’s share price by selling off the company’s flagship car unit and transforming Volvo into the world’s foremost manufacturer of commercial vehicles.

This is the essay that started it all: The Servant as Leader by Robert Greenleaf. Powerful and practical, The Servant as Leader describes some of the characteristics and activities of servant-leaders, providing examples which show that individual efforts, inspired by vision and a servant ethic, can make a substantial difference in the quality of society.

Colleen Barrett of Southwest Airlines describes her servant leadership journey and how the airline prospered by putting employees and customers first:

Over the past five years, there’s been an explosion of interest in purpose-driven leadership according to Nick Craig and Scott Snook. In their Harvard Business Review article, From Purpose to Impact, they maintain that a big challenge remains:fewer than 20% of leaders have a strong sense of their own individual purpose. Their purpose is to change that—to help executives find and define their leadership purpose and put it to use.

In TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Connections in the Smallest Moments, Doug Conant and Mette Norgaard argue that every point of contact with other people is an opportunity for leaders to increase their impact and promote their organization’s strategy and values. Through previously untold stories from Conant’s tenure as CEO of Campbell Soup Company and Norgaard’s vast consulting experience, the authors show that a leader’s impact and legacy are built through hundreds, even thousands, of interactive moments in time. The good news is that anyone can develop “TouchPoint” mastery by focusing on three essential components: head, heart, and hands.

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