After you’ve worked in a corporate environment for as long as I have, you start to get the impression that there aren’t very many people out here who like doing their actual jobs. There are lots of people who like what they’re doing, temporarily, because they’re keeping their eyes trained on the rungs of the corporate ladder. But you don’t see many who like what they’re doing while they’re doing it, or at least see the value of the job alone.
It starts to feel like some kind of a Twilight Zone prom where everyone has a date that they settled for, but they’re really there to ogle the person they really want to be dating.
Healthy ambition is good. Dreaming of what you want and then taking steps to get there is even better. However, some people don’t really have a distinct goal in mind.
Without a distinct goal, a person will expend energy in the wrong ways, like focusing only on high-profile projects or taking shortcuts in the work he’s supposed to be doing so he can jockey himself into position.
Wrongly ambitious people usually just want power. Unfortunately, they also equate power with leading or managing other people. [Insert burst of jaded, derisive laughter here.]
Of course, seeking power for power’s sake is the wrong reason. You should seek a position in management because you understand your company’s business goals, and you have the skills to lead people to make those goals a reality. You should seek a leadership position not because the resulting nameplate on your office door would kick ass, but because you have a talent to lead.
Power, leadership, and a team of direct reports — they don’t make you a more valuable person. They are the results of being a valuable person.