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Four Traits: Part 3 – They drive ambition for the whole enterprise

April 11, 2019

Following on from our research-based article on the Four X-factors of an Exceptional Leader, we are focusing on each trait in more detail. In part three of the series, Merryck Mentor, Seamus Keating, looks at the trait: “They drive ambition for the whole enterprise”

“For mine own good, All causes shall give way. I am in blood
Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”

“THESE FAMOUS LINES from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, remind us of the perils of excessive ambition for personal gain.The common definition of ambition is “the strong desire and determination to achieve success” which is surely a positive attribute to have! However, our world has become somewhat schizophrenic in its attitude to ambition, citing connotations of ego and personal advancement as negative characteristics. Can an organisation be ambitious? Is it the collective ambition of individuals, all striving for personal goals, advancement and enrichment? Surely a recipe for disaster!

I believe that an ambitious organisation is one where there is clarity of purpose. This clarity is followed through by alignment on purpose, strategy and values, underpinned by ability to execute sustainably. From ‘shop-floor to board’, there is buy-in to the ‘why’, the ‘what’ and ‘how’ we do things around here.

Purpose is not a target or a destination. It’s the reason an organisation exists and considers its wider impact on society. When we fulfil our purpose, we achieve sustainability in an authentic manner. Exceptional leaders engage the organisation to distil purpose and build strategy where all stakeholders can join the dots, recognising themselves in the picture.

““Purpose is not a target or a destination. It’s the reason an organisation exists and considers its wider impact on society”

The purpose becomes the shared ambition of the entire enterprise and the leaders are the accepted natural drivers of this ambition. There is less scope for inter-divisional game-playing and it’s difficult to hide behind personal and local agendas at the expense of the wider enterprise purpose.

Perhaps the question is “How do exceptional leaders drive PURPOSE for the whole enterprise?” Some thoughts:

1. They engage the organisation to distil its purpose, anchored in the current reality and setting course and speed with strong belief in the journey.

2. They never stop communicating. They make it relevant from shop-floor to board. They are honest about roadblocks, diversions and breakdowns along the route.

3. They build a team where members thrive on mutual accountability and respect, each recognising that the most senior team they play in is their primary team. They don’t carry passengers, moving quickly to manage under-performers.

4. They set the rules of engagement to reward both local and enterprise success. They establish an “esprit de corps” that managers are on the top team to run the company, and not to represent their local unit. How often are business unit leaders turning up to group exec meetings, defending their patch to avoid going back to their troops with new challenges? Exceptional leaders create a team agenda that concentrates on enterprise success and not local micromanagement.

5. They are seen to be ‘fair’. It’s not possible to legislate for every eventuality and in a demanding environment, people want to trust that the right behaviours for the enterprise, even if they are suboptimal locally, will be recognised and rewarded. They trust the team, listen and are open to feedback and criticism.

6. They understand the conflict between the short and long term and have the courage and conviction to live with sufficient uncertainty.

These ideas are not revolutionary, but they are the building blocks of effective leadership. Exceptional leaders don’t need to drive ambition. They create clarity of purpose and from there, ambition becomes self-propelled across the enterprise.


SEAMUS KEATING is an experienced finance and technology leader, he has experience in both the public and private sectors. A management accountant (FCMA), he was one of the youngest CFO’s in the FTSE and later made the transition to COO and regional CEO at Logica plc. Since leaving Logica in 2012, he has been using his experience on a varied portfolio of interests in the public and private equity markets.


We are holding a Lunch workshop event for HR Leaders to delve deeper into the Four X-factors of an Exceptional Leader on Thursday 23rd May 2019. The event will be hosted by the mentor authors of the four articles and will be a chance to meet them in person and network with your peers.
If you are interested in attending, please click here for further information and to sign up.

Click here to download full article.