Are You Sure You Want to Hire Ambitious Employees?

Don't let ambitious employees slip away! Create a culture that supports their drive for success and watch your organization thrive

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May 29, 2024

At first glance, the idea of hiring ambitious employees sounds great. The concept of having driven, goal-oriented individuals on your team seems like a surefire way to ensure success. However, while many companies and leaders love the idea of highly ambitious employees, the reality is that they may not fully understand the implications of hiring such individuals. The truth is that many managers and companies are wired to do things that actually chase away and demotivate ambitious people.

The Allure of Ambitious Employees

The appeal of ambitious employees is evident. They are the ones who set audacious goals, seek out challenges, and strive to make significant contributions. These individuals are often seen as the drivers of innovation and excellence within an organization. The research on goal-setting indicates that highly ambitious people are more likely to pursue professional goals that others might consider unattainable. They thrive in high-energy, challenging environments and are always looking to push the boundaries of their capabilities.

The Disconnect in Recruitment

Despite the apparent benefits, recruiting highly ambitious employees requires a different approach. Standard recruitment pitches that emphasize company stability, robust benefits, and work-life balance may not resonate with these individuals. Ambitious candidates are more interested in opportunities to innovate and excel. They are drawn to environments that challenge them and allow them to make a substantial impact.
To attract ambitious candidates, companies should emphasize the challenges that the role presents and the opportunities for significant impact. Highlighting high standards, career growth, and a competitive environment can make the recruitment pitch more appealing to these high-achievers. Additionally, involving leadership in the recruitment process and showcasing success stories of ambitious employees who have thrived in the company can be powerful draws.

Leadership Styles and Ambition

One critical factor in retaining ambitious employees is the leadership style of their managers. Research indicates that there are four fundamental leadership styles: Diplomats, Stewards, Idealists, and Pragmaticists. Of these, the Pragmaticist style is often the most appealing to ambitious employees.

Pragmatists have high standards and are driven to achieve their goals. They value competitiveness and directness, traits that ambitious employees respect and admire. This leadership style pushes employees to develop both their strengths and weaknesses, offering exceptional growth opportunities. However, working for a Pragmatist can be challenging, and it’s not for everyone.

The Reality of Managerial Preferences

While ambitious employees seek out challenges and opportunities for growth, many managers prefer dependable employees, team players, and easy to get along with. These characteristics are often at odds with those of highly ambitious individuals who may challenge conventions and pursue audacious goals. This disconnect can lead to frustration for ambitious employees who feel stifled by the lack of support for their innovative ideas.

A study by Leadership IQ revealed that managers often avoid hiring people who might challenge, contradict, or outshine them. This tendency can be detrimental to ambitious employees who thrive on pushing boundaries and seeking new solutions. Managers not open to new ideas and innovations may inadvertently chase away their most ambitious team members.

The Challenges of Retaining Ambitious Employees

Retaining ambitious employees requires more than just hiring them. It involves creating an environment that continuously challenges and engages them. Ambitious employees need clear career growth trajectories, opportunities for significant impact, and a competitive environment that recognizes and rewards performance.
However, many companies fail to provide these conditions. Ambitious employees often find themselves in environments that prioritize stability and harmony over innovation and competition. This misalignment can lead to disengagement and high turnover rates among ambitious employees.

Aligning Company Culture with Ambition

To successfully retain ambitious employees, companies need to align their culture with the needs and expectations of these individuals. This means fostering a culture that values high standards, competitiveness, and continuous improvement. It also provides ambitious employees opportunities to take on challenging projects and advance their careers.

Moreover, companies need to be willing to adapt their leadership styles to better support ambitious employees. This might mean encouraging more direct and actionable feedback, setting stretch goals, and recognizing high performance.
While the idea of hiring ambitious employees is appealing, it requires a deep understanding of what motivates these individuals and how to create an environment that supports their drive for excellence. Companies that succeed in attracting and retaining ambitious employees are those that offer challenging roles, high standards, and clear growth opportunities. By aligning their culture and leadership styles with the needs of ambitious employees, companies can harness the full potential of these high-achievers and drive significant success.

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