Ambition: The Fire in the Belly Employers Want

ambition at work Ambition, that old-fashioned fire in the belly, is what employers are looking for in 2011.

Job applicants who demonstrate drive have the edge over even more technically qualified candidates. And, if you're ambitious, the timing is great for a job search. During 2011, the job market is picking up significantly in fields such as health care, food preparation, retail, accounting, information technology, beauty, and social work.

The ambitious are now in demand because of changes in the economy during the 21st century. "Those hiring and promoting learned from the downturn and intense economic volatility that's it's no longer enough to do 'just a job,'" says Michael Francoeur, Dale Carnegie Traininginstructor and executive coach.

The science behind drive

As Francour explained to AOL Jobs, "Employers now know that what kept their business growing or even saved it were the employees who saw beyond their job description. They pushed to do whatever was needed at the time. Often their most important contribution is persistence. The ambitious stay with a project, no matter how bad things seem. That's usually because they have the confidence to believe in themselves. The less ambitious would have become discouraged."

As you know, not everyone is ambitious. That's one reason employers are competing to recruit those who are, often offering them incentives to join their organizations. In essence, ambition comes half from nature or inner wiring, and half from nurture or the influence of authority figures, ranging from parents to educators to mentors and bosses.

This nature/nurture mix is what Amy Karnilowicz LMFT, cognitive behavioral therapist, believes underlies ambition. However, Karnilowicz explains, "During difficult economic or emotional times, ambition may seem to skip a generation or generations. A family gets so weighed down in troubles that their ability to nurture and empower their children to be ambitious is squashed.

This is reflected in generational patterns where children succumb to their parents' destructive habits. But then I have seen that drive surface in the children who are determined not to do what their parents have done. Against all odds that generation gains access to what they need to succeed."

Yet, not all the ambitious do well professionally. Some even get turned down for jobs and promotions, over and over again. So what goes so wrong? The missing ingredient is a lack of what's referred to as emotional intelligence (EI). Executive coaches like Francoeur and psychotherapists like Karnilowicz explain EI as the ability to focus outside yourself, understand what others need and want, and create mutually beneficial work conditions. That entails basic skills like speed reading people, listening, negotiating, acknowledging input from others, and recognizing your own mistakes.

So, how can you present yourself as having both drive and EI? The more you understand the dynamics of ambition, the smarter you can be about managing it, and your career. Getting your head around the notion that there is both good and bad ambition, might provide some difficulty since so many myths have become associated with drive. Let's clear up some of those misconceptions:

Myth: There is only one kind of ambition

mark herrmann Actually, ambition comes in many forms, ranging from the push to run a company to the burning desire to run the New York City marathon. Mark Herrmann is a practicing lawyer, author, and family man. He has managed to balance all those ambitions but, he admits, "not easily." His job is vice president and chief counsel of litigation at Aon. One of his books -- 'The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law' -- is required reading in a growing number of law schools and firms. His marriage as well as his children are thriving.

But, even within the practice of law, Herrmann notes, the ambitious may have several goals, some of which conflict. Simultaneously, a lawyer might want to be made partner, become a brand name in a particular field of law, do right by the client, and protect themselves against burnout. The truly ambitious get the hang of being able to establish priorities and implement them.

Myth: Saints can't be ambitious

Think about it enough and you will probably conclude that Jesus Christ, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King had plenty of fire in their bellies. Author of best selling spiritual books Mark Matousek writes and teaches about the inner yearning to grow in spirit, share wisdom, and make the world better. His book 'When You're Falling, Dive' describes the internal shift that drives human beings from living ordinary lives to doing things like starting movements, or producing great art. Matousek himself migrated from being a pop culture journalist for publications like Interview Magazine, to becoming a spiritual guide after he faced a life-threatening crisis.

Myth: Ambitions are forever

Some believe that the business tycoon will always pursue entrepreneurial opportunities. That might be true for some but not for all.

Nick Williams is what some might call a renaissance man when it comes to his career. He started out selling cars, and later moved to financial products. Then when he realized that the sizable income didn't satisfy his drive, he decided to attend college -- and encouraged by professors continued onto law school. When he graduated a Manhattan law firm hired him. Then his ambition became to operate his own small firm which he launched as Sondhi Williams, LLP, New York, N.Y.

Now with Sondhi Williams, LLP as his base, Williams wants to create a professional life in which no one line of work, no one set of skills, and no one type of client will limit him.

Myth: Ambition and family are mutually exclusive

Horror stories of stage mothers and the like have created the illusion that good parents let their children find their own way, especially professionally. The reality is that children flourish when parents deliberately create environments in which children can try out personas, skills, and have the opportunity to handle success and failure.

Baby boomer Lee Hansen Harrison is just realizing this. Harrison used to define "ambition as a competitive striving for success that can be seen and measured by fame and fortune." After Harrison thought about ambition in preparation for this interview, she recognized that she has been ambitious in helping her daughter Erica and son Tim become confident and fearless. Those were traits she hadn't had when she was coming of age professionally in the 1960s. Erica became an attorney and Tim an engineer. And, along the way, Harrison became motivated to do her own work on herself, "conquering personal demons." She has also attended graduate school to work as a reference librarian and has learned to ride English saddle, sew, and do gourmet cooking.

Takeaways for your own drive

Remember that ambition, as long as it's kept in moderation, is that extra quality that many employers are looking for in new hires. Ambition is great in those who can exhibit at least a little Emotional Intelligence. This means having the ability to pursue goals effectively, without alienating the majority of your co-workers.

Keep in mind that ambition, like most human behaviors comes from a combination of genetic an environmental factors. That means that if you feel as if you were born with less ambition than you'd like to have, it is always something you can work on. Ambition has many forms; even if you have ambition throughout your entire career, the way that this ambition manifests it self may change over time, with changing goals and desires.

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