Ambition an entrepreneurial paradox

In business, the theme of ambition keeps coming up time and time again. But, my sense is that it is more than just an ambition that centres on size or on money. It is an ambition that brings with it: “an eternal sense of dissatisfaction with what currently exists, a strong drive to make things better”; “a passion for doing something that really makes a difference”; “a belief that you can make it happen or actually see yourself doing it”; an imperative to make the business a success – “there is no plan b”.

“Unless you drive a business forward, it won’t be sustainable.” And herein lies the first challenge – keeping this driving, ambitious energy alive.

Someone with whom I have worked very closely is frequently heard to say, “your business looks and feels the way it does because it is your business. If it were my business, it would look and feel very different” and believe me, he’s right.

More times than we care to remember, we have come across leaders of SMEs who have simply ‘fallen out of love’ with the business. They have become “worn down by the daily grind of the business”, “don’t have enough troops to get the job done”, get drawn in to the everyday activity, become “unable to see the wood for the trees”. The result? A business that has become ‘unloved’, ‘worn down’ and ‘stuck’.

It has been quoted on a number of occasions that “the CEO of a Fortune 500 organisation has a 10-15% influence on the performance of the business”. Well, in a smaller growing business the leader is the performance of the business.

A significant influence on this ambitious, driving energy, is personal life-stage and circumstance. This may seem an obvious statement, but the influence it has on the development of the business is strongly felt.

Consider the number of:

  • Young ambitious entrepreneurs with drive and enthusiasm but without the funds or experience to start a business or those who fail at their first attempt only to drop out of entrepreneurial life, battered and bruised by their experience.
  • Entrepreneurs trapped within organisations, unable to take the difficult and important step of leaving their job.
  • Businesses that stagnate or stall because the owner can’t risk going for growth, “I’ve got school fees to pay” or “my partner thought it was too risky to remortgage the house”.
  • Businesses that become focused on growth only 3-5 years before the owner wants to retire.

An intuitive, non-statistical interpretation of how this might look is summarised below. With it comes the introduction of the ‘entrepreneurial paradox’: young entrepreneurs with drive and energy but lacking the network, experience and funds to make it happen, versus older entrepreneurs with the network, experience and funds but lacking the drive or energy to make it happen.

Ambition – an entrepreneurial paradox

This driving, ambitious energy is a key component of sustainable success for ambitious owner managers, and key questions that seem worth asking are:

  • How clear are you on your ambition for the business? How does it align with your personal ambition?
  • What are you looking to improve or do better?
  • Where are you trying to make your real difference?
  • What do you passionately believe in?
  • How do you visualise success for you and your business?
  • What actions are you taking to keep the ambition and energy alive?
  • Does the ‘entrepreneurial paradox’ have meaning for you?
  • How might you resolve it?


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