Monday, November 14, 2011

When Ambition Trumps Mission

Ambition is not a bad thing--there's nothing wrong with the desire to get ahead and do the best you can, but when ambition trumps mission in service work such as education, politics, medicine and social work, problems arise.

All those who work with the public have to continually check and recheck their efforts to make sure that they are pointed in the right direction--optimal service to those they serve.

Ambition and mission can work in tandem.  For example, a medical researcher may work passionately to solve a problem related to disease to best effect a cure, or a teacher might work rigorously to understand cognitive strategies that better students' ability to access knowledge, concept and skill.  Both teacher and researcher are ambitious in their pursuit, but mission lies at the center of their efforts.  They both may gain expertise, recognition and possibly monetary gain for their passionate work, but that recognition derives from embracing and achieving the mission.

Sadly, there are some in all service fields that seem to travel only the ambition path--making choices based on getting ahead rather than doing what's right for those they serve--their work is marked by questionable decisions, lack of transparency and surface effect rather than substance.

There are probably few on the far ends of the ambition/mission scale with the rest of us scattered on points throughout the continuum, hopefully points closer to the mission end of our work than the ambition end. Letting ambition trump mission hinders organizational success, stunts potential, and in the end, delays and/or denies optimal service.  On the other hand, when mission drives an organization and individuals' ambition fuels purposeful action then it's a win-win for those that serve and those that are served.

Where do you stand on the ambition/mission scale?  What's important when it comes to keeping a focus on mission while also maximizing the energy and drive that ambition brings?  What is the role of transparency in this discussion?  How is communication and information perceived? And, what role does this discussion play with regard to collaboration?  I welcome your thoughts, ideas and discussion.