The dream team: managing your ambitious people


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Ambition is a wonderful thing in business. It drives people to try harder, to innovate, to apply creative solutions to problems and to strive constantly for improvement. Most teams have at least some ambitious people in them. As a boss, you need to get involved. Why? Because identifying and fostering ambition within your team can benefit you, the team and, ultimately, your business.

Understand your present position

Firstly, identify exactly who is ambitious in your team. If you are involved in regular conversations with your people, then this will be straightforward enough. You’ll probably already have a sense of their career ambitions, but you need to gauge precisely how ambitious they are. What do they want from their careers, specifically? Linear promotion? More money? More management opportunities? A promotion in five years?

How capable are they?

Next, you should identify the capabilities that your ambitious team members have, as well as their potential. Whilst they may be dreaming of becoming CEOs one day, if they don’t possess the necessary skills and capabilities, then that plan will be too unrealistic. Helping people to take stock of their skills will help them to be realistic about their goals.

You should establish very clearly which competencies your team members have and to what level they perform at each competency. Without this base knowledge, it’s impossible to know how best to support your team’s development for the next move

What opportunities can you provide?

It’s useful to consider the ambition you’ve identified in the context of your business, identifying what opportunities you can provide for those with ambition. Is the person you’re considering ready for your job, for example? If so, what’s the next step for you? If not quite ready, perhaps you could appoint him/her as your deputy?

Alternatively, you may need to search internally for different types of opportunities that would better suit the individual’s personal career ambitions.

Development Plan

Next, create development plans for all your ambitious people, that deal with where they are now and outlines how they can reach the role they aspire to. This can be done in two ways: through performance management, and through motivation.

Performance management

By ensuring you implement thorough, effective and regular performance management, you are maximizing the chance to develop the individuals in your team and manage their ambition levels. Their next performance management appraisal will give you a chance to discuss current performance levels, agree future targets and set smart objectives. Your people will feel that they have a clear route to achieving their ambitions.


It’s natural that individuals are ambitious and the more honestly and openly you talk about it, the easier it will be to manage. Create an environment where speaking about ambition is encouraged. This will avoid any misunderstandings, or a culture where personal ambitions are met at the expense of others.

Promote and support

If your team members achieve their goals, you need to promote them. You will already have identified whether this can be done internally. Ensure this happens in a timely manner and remember to celebrate success.

However, if your people fail to meet their objectives, they will need your support.
Help them to see their options. They could remain in their current role, consider a sideways move or maybe even look for opportunities elsewhere.

Ambition is not something to be feared. On the contrary, it’s something to be encouraged, and is the key to a thriving business. Furthermore, unless you are able to develop your team members, you are unlikely to be trusted with further promotion yourself. Let ambition thrive in your teams, and acknowledge that it is the path to ultimate success. Allow your people to dream. After all, in the words of Nelson Mandela: “a winner is a dreamer who never gives up”.


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