An Open Letter to Ambitious Companies
Empowering Ambitious Leaders in The Workplace
Building a business is tough. There’s lots of challenges you will face in the 1st year, 3rd year, and 5th year that will test your endurance (and patience!) to the very limit. Only 50% of businesses survive to their 5th year, and only 30% manage to reach their 10-year anniversary. But if you make it past those first few years, you’re (hopefully!) in the clear. So once your business hits that milestone, it should all be smooth sailing, right?
Well, not exactly. Once you’re at that stage, many businesses start to move their focus away from growth, and towards succession. Keeping the business going beyond the initial founders by growing the team, scaling up and ensuring an increase in growth for years and even decades to come. This takes planning, action and attention. More importantly, it takes leaders (the Beyonce’s of the world if you will). Without strong leaders in the workplace, a business can only ever go so far.
Now let’s be clear – leader is not a title or a job role. It’s something you are, and leaders can exist at every single level of a business, from the receptionist up to the CEO and everything in-between. They are not, as many people believe, only found at management level. While people will follow the instructions given by a manager because they have to, they will follow directions given by a leader because they want to. The greatest difference between a manager and a leader is that a leader does not have to hold a management position – in fact they can be anybody of any level within the business, and people will still listen to them. A leader is a charismatic individual who inspires people to follow them because of what they stand for rather than the authority they hold. Honesty and integrity are crucial qualities in a leader, closely followed by the ability and willingness to embrace change. Good leaders will challenge the status quo, do things differently, have the courage to think outside the box and the ability to communicate that with others. Leaders are the big picture thinkers who don’t want to do things the same old way just because that’s how they’ve always been done. Instead they want to make things better, to constantly improve and inspire others to do the same.
And that is exactly what you need. If you want your business to innovate, thrive and succeed in the years to come, it needs to have a team of strong leaders on board at every level. But leaders aren’t born – they’re made. Which means as a business, you have the opportunity to craft and empower your own leaders of the future – if you’re willing to put in the work.
Be warned – empowering people is not a casual act, or something you can do in a day. It’s a comprehensive and continuous process, and something you will have to work at to get right. but I promise you, it will be worth it. In this paper, I’m going to show you just how valuable leadership can be for your company, and why you should be doing everything you can to nurture and empower your people to be leaders in your business.
The History of Work
For as long as human beings have existed, we have worked. In the beginning our work was very individual – hunting and foraging, building shelter, raising children. And that labour was divided by the attributes of each person – so when an individual showed prowess for hunting, they would become a hunter. If their skill was building huts, then that was what they did. The older individuals in the tribes who were too weak to hunt or forage would take on sedentary tasks, and the gender division of tasks was based purely on our physical characteristics.
But as we developed, we started dividing up duties based on skills. We started learning new skills and moving between roles, and soon we became a civilised species. The development of pottery, textiles, agriculture and metallurgy paved the way for the human race we know now, and by the time written history began, social classes were in existence, with members of each class occupying a certain place in the organisation of work. Class drove the divide on work for a long time, and no matter how ambitious a person was, it was extraordinarily difficult for them to move up in the ranks, or to another, higher ranking trade. Then we began to develop, creating technology, building the modern economy and forging a new path for ourselves, and so the nature of our work started to change again. Education was more freely available, and people could choose to learn more and upskill in whatever areas they liked. In this more modern workforce, an ambitious person had more access to resources and the ability to move around the workforce hierarchy wherever they chose.
But of course, it wasn’t like that for everyone. Even though it was now possible for a person to learn more and advance further in their career, there were still many classes of people whose ambition was being tamped down or stamped out. In the medieval times it was peasants and slaves, and as humanity developed it became minority groups. In the Western world, women, people of colour, or people of different religions were all heavily persecuted, and their ability to enter the workforce was either hindered or stopped altogether.
Fast forward to today, 2021, and we like to think we’re much more advanced and enlightened than our primitive ancestors. That we understand all people are human, and all have their own unique experience and value they can bring to the workplace regardless of background. But sadly, this is not the case. There are still industry sectors out there that will actively deter certain groups of people from working within them (99% of construction workers are still male, and women find it incredibly difficult to break into this sector). There are still businesses that will refuse to hire people of different religions, socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities and abilities to their own (even if this is done covertly). And there are still groups of people who are discriminated against and held back based on who they are.
Ambition is key to Humanity
But human beings are wonderful creatures, and one thing that unites us is the desire to achieve, to reach further, to know more. It’s one of the reasons we as a race have advanced as much as we have, and how we have moved beyond our own solar system. Ambition is responsible for humanity’s development and advancement. Without ambition we wouldn’t have medicine, 100+ storey buildings, technology that could fit on the head of a pin, or the ability to travel across the globe in the space of a day. Ambition has been the making of humanity.
So why is it seen as a dirty word? In many Eastern traditions ambition is seen as an evil, tying us down to worldly pursuits. In business circles, having ambitious employees onboard is often painted as a bad thing, with managers looking for ways to ‘tame’ their ambitious employees. Or worse, not even understanding what ambition looks like or what it means. But when ambition has helped humankind achieve so much, it’s difficult to see why having ambitious people on your team could be anything but a good thing, and why you would not do everything in your power to nurture that flame and reap the results.
And yet, it happens all the time. Ambitious workers are ignored, dismissed or passed over for all sorts of reasons, and so the individual, the business and the world will never get to see their full potential.
The Under-Represented Groups
When it comes to being recognised as having leadership potential, and then being supported in developing their skills within the business, all people are not equal. Sadly there are still a lot of archaic issues leftover from years gone by in the modern workplace – including the types of people businesses see and groom as leaders. And more importantly, the types of people who tend to be glossed over and ignored time and time again. And as I list these groups, I challenge you to think about why these groups of people struggle to climb the corporate ladder, and whether you see this in your own business (even if it’s not intentional).
As a woman, there is an immense societal pressure to be the primary caregiver for your family. Even if you don’t have children, the prevailing assumption is still that you will have children eventually, and when you do you will be expected to care for them while the father goes back to work and fills the role of ‘breadwinner’. To the point that women didn’t even enter the workforce until the 1950’s, and ever since then have struggled to achieve equal representation. Firms who are reluctant about hiring or promoting women will usually cite children or childcare as the source of their concerns – they don’t want to invest in someone who is going to disappear for a year when they have a child, or who might need some added flexibility for childcare. Rather than cater to those specific needs, they would prefer to avoid hiring or promoting women altogether – a view that is not only ignorant and wrong, but also goes against equal employment laws. And yet it sadly is the prevailing view. In fact, in 2012 a survey
of more than 6,500 Harvard Business School alumni from different industries found that 73% of men and 85% of women gave this as the reason women struggle to advance in the workplace:
‘High-level jobs require extremely long hours. Women’s devotion to family makes it impossible for them to put in those hours, and their careers suffer as a result.’
This was called the ‘work/family’ narrative, and further research has shown that although many people believe this, it just isn’t true. And even though men struggled with the same work/family balance problems, they were still able to advance. The research showed that the real reason women were held back and struggling to progress in their careers is because they were encouraged to accept accommodations – like going part-time or shifting to internally facing roles – which derailed their careers as a result. And this is something I see time and time again – a culture of overwork that hurts both men and women, and locks gender inequality in place in the workplace. Couple that with the severe rate of imposter syndrome women experience, and you have a recipe for a severely lopsided workforce.
Even today, women are still underrepresented, underpaid, and overlooked for roles and even entire industries, simply because of their gender.In 2020, research showed that less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs and only 2% of S&P 500 CEOs are women. There is still a 15.5% pay gap between men and women, and time and time again women are passed over for promotions even if they are just as qualified as their male counterparts. But women represent a huge pool of talent, resources and innovation for businesses, and there are plenty of women who have a great deal of ambition, and who want to progress to be at the top of their fields. Even those who have had families and returned to work possess the desire to achieve – yet many businesses assume their priority is no longer their career. So even now, in 2021, ambitious women will struggle to progress in their careers.
Race & Ethnicity
Every person, regardless of their ethnicity of background, should be able to fulfil their potential at work. But that has not always been the case, and even now people from ethnic minority backgrounds face a number of struggles that limit their progress in the workforce. In the past, racial discrimination was both acceptable and commonplace, and despite years of attempting to shift the mindset, it has remained in place in a number of ways. There has been a lot of research into the treatment of differing racial groups within the workplace, and the results are rarely positive.A study by Oxford University found that applicants from minority ethnic backgrounds had to send 80% more applications to get a positive response from an employer than a white British applicant. The same researchers compared their results with similar experiments dating back to 1969, and found that discrimination in the workplace against black Britons and those of south Asian origin – particularly Pakistanis – remained unchanged over the 50 years. So while we may have made progress on the racial equality front in many areas, in the workplace we have made none.
There are many who claim this is an ‘unconscious bias’, and are happy to hide behind that. But in fact most of that bias that means people of ethnical minority backgrounds struggle at work is the result of a system that benefits a certain group of people – mainly white men. Systemic bias is a very real thing, and it means that people of colour are still struggling to realise their potential and achieve within the workplace. Worse still, there is also the issue of overt and conscious racism, which has applicants for jobs or promotions getting shortlisted on the basis of their ethnicity or name alone, or being passed over for roles and opportunities because of the colour of their skin. There is legislation in effect to stop this kind of racism and give everyone an equal opportunity at work – but clearly anti-discrimination laws aren’t enough to hold employers to account.
Up until 1967, it was illegal for people to be homosexual. Just let that sink in for a minute. It’s only been legal for same sex couples to be together for 53 years. With that in mind, it’s not really surprising that before that time, there was a lot of discrimination in the workplace around sexuality, and in the world in general. Now, around 2.2% of the UK population fall into the LGTBQ bracket (though it’s almost impossible to get a truly accurate number on this). So would it surprise you to know that only
81 countries in the world prohibit discrimination against sexuality? Thankfully, the UK is one of them, but in 14 countries it is still perfectly legal to refuse employment to someone who identifies as LGBTQ, or to treat them differently within the workplace. Unsurprisingly, both of these things have meant that anyone within the LGBTQ sphere has faced some serious issues in the workplace. Many people have struggled to find work in the first place – though this has been reduced since it became illegal to ask about sexual orientation in job applications or in interviews. Once in work, many have faced bullying and harassment, pay discrepancies and fear at work, as well as being passed over for promotions and not being offered the same opportunities as other employees. So much so that even today, with considerable progress being made, around 46% of LGBTQ workers are closeted in the workplace, and live in fear of discrimination. To top it off, 10% of LGBTQ employees have left a job because the work environment did not accept LGBTQ people.
Religion is a very passionate subject for many people, and by now we have all seen the impact differing religious views can have. In the past, workforces were often segregated into different religious groups – with certain companies only hiring people of the same belief system as them. This happened across religions, and was not limited to just one, and it caused a lot of hostility, as well as holding back people within those religious groups who wanted to branch out or progress in certain businesses or industries.
In the modern world workforces now include people with a much broader range of beliefs, and it has become illegal to discriminate against people based on their own religions or belief system – regardless of the employer’s religion or non-belief. But that discrimination still happens. Sometimes it’s more direct – harassment, bullying and victimisation of an employee based on religion is still rife, with 3% of employees having experienced harassment or discrimination due to their religion. But the issues any religious person faces in the workplace can also be more covert. For example, an employer may set rules that apply to everyone, but unfairly disadvantage employees of certain religions or beliefs. This includes things like:
- Requiring a dress code that excludes people who wear items of clothing as part of their faith.
- Unfairly setting work schedules that prevent employees taking time off for religious observance.
- Unfairly banning certain religious items, such as the symbolic bracelet work by Sikh men.
This is why every business needs to be acutely aware of religious discrimination and the forms it can take – because it happens far more often than they realise, even now.
This is an interesting one, because it covers such a wide range of people, and can include everyone within the previous groups. But people who choose to have children often struggle with career advancement. In fact returning to work after maternity leave is a serious issue for many women, and they are often coerced into taking different options – like part-time work or switching roles – rather than returning to their full-time role. As with all of the other groups, it is illegal to discriminate against people because of their parental status, but many parents find themselves facing discrimination based on their family or childcare obligations. This tends to manifest itself most in parents being overlooked for promotions, not given the same opportunities as non-parents, and generally being given lighter workloads and non-responsibility jobs due to perceived concerns about their commitment or childcare obligations. Some of the more common examples of parental discrimination include:
- Women have had their employment terminated because they were pregnant or have asked to take time off for maternity – even if that wasn’t the reason given on paper.
- Refusing to promote women who are pregnant or have children at home,
- Being inflexible about work schedules for parents who have childcare needs while being flexible about non-parent’s schedules.
- Making up excuses to justify firing employees with parental duties – including creating ‘work infractions’ or accusations about lack of performance
- Giving higher positions to single women or married men, rather than women who are engaged, just in case they become pregnant in the future.
- Rewarding single women, women who are not mothers, or men rather than women who are more qualified by also have children.
It should be pretty easy to see how parental discrimination creates a real problem in the workplace, and how parents will often struggle to progress or become high-achievers, no matter how ambitious they are.
Age is often left off the list of groups facing discrimination in the workplace, but the truth is that the older you get, the more obstacles you are likely to face at work. And most of them won’t actually have anything to do with your abilities. On average, employees over the age of 65 will experience some level of age discrimination, with 21% reporting they have experiences it themselves, and 26% feeling there is a risk they could lose their job because of their age. Not only that, but 30% of older people feel their age has prevented them from getting a job since they turned 40. This is a particularly tough thing for ambitious people, because there is no age limit on ambition, yet they will often find themselves passed over for opportunities that could help them succeed. A few examples of age-related discrimination include:
- An employer refusing to allow you to do a training course because they think you are ‘too old’.
- Age related harassment from colleagues – for example hearing related ‘jokes’ or insults, or comments on how slow someone is at learning how to use new software.
- A company has a pattern of only hiring younger employees.
- Companies stating that an applicant is ‘overqualified’ for a job, simply because they are worried an older person may become bored or dissatisfied and leave the job.
- Being turned down for a promotion in favour of a younger employee.
- Being overlooked for challenging work assignments.
- Becoming isolated or left out.
- Being encouraged (or forced) to retire.
As with many of my other examples, discrimination based on age is illegal, but both conscious and unconscious biases still exist, and many ambitious people feel held back at work due to their age. But when workers over the age of 55 make up 25% of the workforce, this is not something that can continue for much longer.
The Importance of Diversity
Diversity, in other words, is absolutely critical to your business success, and to ensuring strong leadership. Because not only does having a positive company culture encourage diversity in your workplace, but having that diversity improves your profitability – adding another layer onto my previous point. Beyond that, businesses with a more diverse workforce have been shown to be more dominant in the market, be more profitable, and more productive. This is because a diverse workplace brings together viewpoints from all kinds of different cultural, religious, ethnic and economic backgrounds, and this allows businesses to truly understand their target market in a new and different way.
Think of it this way. If you’re designing a product that is going to predominantly be used by women, then having women involved in designing and marketing that product is just good business sense. But if you have people of varying gender identities involved, then you may find new features you can add or angles you can use in your marketing that significantly improve your product, make it more attractive to more people and open up your product to a wider audience. A diverse workplace provides a safe space for a group of people to voice their ideas and concerns, and ultimately generate something better for your business.
Even though the reasons behind each groups’ struggles are different, the end result is the same. They struggle to achieve their goals in the workplace, are overlooked for growth and progression opportunities, and become demotivated in their work. Even if they are the most ambitious people in the world, these kinds of discrimination can really take their toll, and many businesses have lost some of their best talent and potential due to these issues.
Why is Leadership Important for Your Business?
When it comes to long-term success, having good leaders on board is critical. Your leaders at all levels are key in how your company makes decisions, how it acts in the marketplace, and even how your employees feel about working for you – and how productive they are for you. That last point is particularly important, because your employees are the lifeblood of your business.
Yet studies have shown time and time again that when people leave a business, they are almost always leaving the manager, not the job. This is just one of the reasons your management teams should be chock-full of leaders and ambitious people who can inspire their employees to greatness. But all too often, management teams are full of people who don’t really know the first thing about being a good leader, or the impact they could have on the business. The responsibility for identifying, empowering and nurturing those leaders to help them reach their full potential lies with the top business management. It’s their job to give employees a voice, providing opportunities for growth, recognising good performance and providing them with all of the tools, training and authority they need to succeed. But if you’re not sure why leadership is important for your business, or why you need to invest in your people for your future, here are just 8 reasons to get your started:
Define your company purpose:
In order for your business to market itself successfully, make money and be successful, you need to have a clear message. You might think that’s a marketing issue, but really it goes all the way back to your leadership. It’s the leaders within your business that help define the why behind your business, including why you’re the business that can fulfil a client’s needs ahead of the competition, and how to present that in a clear way to the market.
Provide a rallying point:
Think back a second – when was the last time you followed someone who didn’t know what they were doing or where they were heading? I know I can’t remember! And that’s because not having a clear vision rarely leads to success. Following those with a strong sense of purpose is something that’s hard-wired into us. It started by following the strongest hunter, and evolved into following the person who is the best at what we do, so that we can do better. The person you choose to follow is your leader.
I like to think of this as following my yellow brick road as I’m skipping along towards Oz. I will have obstacles or maybe a witch to two to defeat along my journey, but it will be worth it when I reach my destination. But without a solid yellow brick road to follow, how will I know how to get there? You have to set a strong example if you want your employees to follow in your success and your leaders are the way to do that.
Unleash the passion in your employees:
When we talk about the passion in others, we don’t mean it in the ‘lighting the fire inside’ way. Instead, we mean it in the sense that good leaders make their employees want the business to succeed. When people love their job and their environment, they are driven to keep doing their best and deliver success. If a leader can inspire this feeling of commitment and love for their job, the result is fully engaged employees who are enjoying their job and thinking of new ways for the business to succeed so much, they don’t think of it as work!
Develop employee skills:
As I’ve mentioned, good leadership creates a better working environment for everyone in the business, from the bottom to the top. A great leader will set an example for everyone in their sphere, demonstrating the work ethic and skills needed to succeed. And beyond showcasing those skills, good leaders will help to recognise, utilise and refine those skills in others. After all, their success is success for the business!
Demonstrate that people matter:
I can’t stress this enough – employees are the lifeblood of any organisation, and without them, your business will simply collapse. So it pays for businesses to invest in the future and happiness of their employees. A good leader understands this, and makes a point of demonstrating it to the employees when they can.
Employees that feel valued, that know that they matter, will bring that feeling to the customers they talk to. They will pass on the company’s belief that people matter and your customers will know that they are being heard. Being a leader does require you to have a heart, and if yours doesn’t work, you might need to take a trip to OZ and visit the wizard.
Commitment is a scary word to some people, particularly in today’s fast paced world. But regardless, a leader’s job is to inspire commitment to the business in employees who may struggle committing to where they want to eat that night. This means they need to be committed to their job and their people as long as they are with that business. By demonstrating that they are committed to helping their employees succeed, they will generate the kind of commitment and loyalty that makes great businesses (and leaders) stand out.
Motivate by action:
Have you ever tried to tell a child to do something you wouldn’t do yourself? Or to stop doing something that you are doing? My guess is that it didn’t work very well. And it would work even less if your response to ‘why are we doing this?’ is ‘because I said so.’ As human beings, we don’t really like being told what to do. But what we do like is following the leader. So if you want your employees to be more engaged in the business, or have a particular attitude, you need to have some great leaders on your side. A good leader will show their employees the culture, attitude and best practices expected, so that they can imitate and adopt them.
Have you noticed a theme yet? All of these qualities are what a business needs in its leaders – but they are also qualities the business needs to have in order to identify, empower and nurture potential leaders within your business. Because if someone in your business has the qualities and ambition to be a good leader, it’s in your best interests to fan those flames and bring that leadership fire to life. The good news is – leaderships skills can be learned, which means the only thing standing between your business and great leaders is a proactive attitude from you.
What Does Ambition Look Like?
I mentioned earlier that it’s your job as a manager, business owner and leader to recognise ambition in your employees, and nurture that ambition so that your employee can reach the heights they strive for and achieve all they want in their career – preferably while working for you. Because ambitious people want to reach for the stars, and they are more than happy to move around until they find a company that will provide them with the environment they need. So the question is, what does ambition look like, and how do you recognise it?
The good news is, there are some common characteristics that most ambitious people share, which if you understand them, make them easy to spot. Anyone in any role can be ambitious – it isn’t limited to gender, race, religion, or orientation. It’s all about how your brain is wired, and how willing you are to go the extra mile to achieve your goals. And while not every ambitious person will look the same, there are 7 characteristics that you tend to see in an ambitious employee:
Eager to Improve:
An ambitious employee is always looking to improve. Whether that’s looking for feedback on their work, seeking out training and knowledge in new areas, wanting to increase their industry experience and understanding, or just honing in on one particular skill, they want to improve, learn and grow wherever they can.
Most people could be a leader if they have the right training and a lot of practice. But some people are just natural leaders, and they tend to be people of great ambition. These people tend to be strong team leaders who easily bring people together and make things happen. Even if they aren’t in a leadership position, they are the one people gravitate around, and the one who has the most sway in the workplace. Sound familiar?
Loves to Teach:
Ambition loves to teach almost as much as it loves to learn. Ambitious employees will actively try to help other employees, teach them tricks and skills to support their work, share new ideas, and continuously make improvements to the way work in completed in the business – by them and by others too.
Work is Work:
By this, I mean they take their work seriously and are dedicated to their success. They don’t have attendance issues, they don’t take feedback on their work to heart, they don’t engage in workplace gossip, and they always have a good attitude. In other words, they behave like a model employee.
Desire to Achieve:
Employees with ambition will often be open about their desire to achieve more, either to their managers, or to their peers. They will express their wish to be better at work, to learn more, and to advance their career. They may even ask for these things in performance reviews, or in general conversation with management members.
Looks for More:
The work isn’t finished when their own tasks are done. An ambitious employee will always look for more work when other tasks have been completed. If they regularly finish their work with time to spare, they may seek out and take on new responsibilities.
And I mean this in the best way possible. An ambitious employee will always be looking to produce their best work, and to make sure they are meeting and exceeding what is expected of them. They will often produce more than other employees with little effort, and are usually the people you can rely on to take on more and more work. If you have one employee who is always volunteering to take on extra projects, they’ve probably got a fair bit of ambition.
I’m willing to bet that at least one of those traits has set some bells ringing in your head. If you think about the employees you manage, how many of them have one or more of these traits? And more importantly, what are you doing to nurture that ambition and empower those employees to achieve the things they strive for? Because my bet is that you aren’t doing as much as you could be, and that is a great shame for them, and for you.
What Are The Benefits of Empowering Ambitious People?
By now, you’re probably asking yourself why you should bother empowering ambitious people within your company. After all, if they’re ambitious, surely they are empowered enough to do things for themselves! And while at face value that makes sense, it really doesn’t hold up under tougher scrutiny. Mainly because there are so many obstacles placed in the way of so many people, either intentionally or not, that makes achieving those ambitions difficult at best, and impossible for some. And so it’s your job as an employer to remove those obstacles, and instead provide the kind of workplace environment that allows ambitious individuals to spread their wings and achieve the great things they are capable of.
But what’s in it for you? Good question, and one I get asked a lot. And luckily, I have a few answers for you.
The first thing I want to address is profitability. The businesses who actively encourage and nurture their ambitious employees will almost always see a financial benefit. Because every business, no matter what size or industry, relies on its people to succeed. Not only are empowered employees happier at work (and therefore more motivated to perform and be more productive than a non-empowered employee), but they are also very good for your bottom line. Studies have shown time and time again that businesses with highly motivated and empowered employees are around 21% more profitable – so investing a little time into it is an easy win, financially speaking.
From a different angle, research by Gallup backs this up, finding that organisations that empower their employees experience 50% higher customer loyalty, which naturally means revenue and profit grows faster here too. At Yum! Brands (which is the parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver’s, A&W and Taco Bell), all employees are empowered to make decisions up to the value of $15. This might sound odd, but their results show that the odd $10 discount or free salad offered resulted in customer appreciation, greater customer loyalty, more repeat customers and word-of-mouth praise. Which, once again, increases your profitability as a business.
Ambitious people have, well, ambition. They want to achieve things, and tend to be fairly motivated to find ways of doing that. Over the years a lot of research has been done into how best to engage employees and boost productivity in the workplace, and the answer in almost all cases has been increasing individual employee empowerment. This is because empowered employees are more likely to:
- Go the extra mile (they will want to do more for little return)
- Follow best practices (they will want to ensure the best results)
- Be more productive (their output will be greater in the same time period)
- Have good communication (they will speak to colleagues and line managers with respect and thoughtfulness)
- Embrace change (They will be open to trying new things)
- Have a ‘can do’ attitude (they will be much more positive and open to problem solving)
- Provide better customer service (they will make sure your customers feel valued and important)
All of which are great for their productivity and your business.
Empowering everyone in your team can create better lines of communication. This not only means your leaders can be more effective in their roles, but it also means you can get to know each worker, what their ambitions are, and understand how to maximise their potential within the business. Better communication among teams means problems get solved earlier on, and don’t turn into bigger problems down the line, and employees feel safe and secure in raising a query or share something that isn’t going well. This allows you to resolve issues quickly and ensure you have a positive working environment for everyone within the business, which leads to…
Happiness at Work
Happy employees are productive employees, so keeping your employees happy and engaged in their work is critical to your business success. Employee unhappiness is, unfortunately, one of the most unrelenting problems in the corporate world. Almost all companies are dealing with unhappy, unengaged employees in some fashion, with studies showing that only 33% of employees are engaged at work (with the World’s best organisations still only making the 70% mark). But unengaged employees lead to unhappy employees, and unhappy employees are pretty bad for business. Luckily, one of the well-known ways of improving employee happiness is through empowerment and nurture. Recognising good work (both privately and publicly), allowing flexible working, investing in wellbeing systems, offering opportunities for learning and advancement and creating a safe work environment are all proven methods of improving employee happiness – and empowering them in their own work at the same time.
Purpose and Potential
Empowering your team members ultimately gives every individual who works for you a greater understanding of their role and purpose in your business – and how they can best fulfil it. Beyond just coming to work five days a week, they will be involved in planning and decision making around their own projects and role, making them an active contributor to your company’s success. Seeing and hearing how their work impacts the business and other people in it gives employees more confidence and purpose, understanding that the tasks they do have a genuine meaning.
Better Talent Range
There’s no denying that most businesses want to hire ambitious people to work for them. Ambitious people tend to be high achievers, given the space and environment to flourish. But no one likes to work for a micro-manger, and the way you work with employees will become common knowledge in the market. If your workplace is rigid, doesn’t allow for flexibility and there is no room for growth, then people in your industry will know that, and avoid applying if they are looking for a new role. But if you’re known for empowering your teams, giving them the freedom to achieve success in their own way and allowing them to become happy and productive, then you suddenly become a much more attractive employment prospect. So if you’re looking to grow your business and attract top talent to help you do it, your work needs to start from the inside.
Each and every one of these benefits will have a positive impact on your employees on their own – but they will also have a substantial impact on your business as well. An empowered employees with raised confidence and open communication lines can help with better decision making, complete tasks to a higher standard, and bring forward new ideas and initiatives that can improve everything from the products and services you offer to how to run your business or how you market what you do. Empowering your ambitious employees can lead to exciting new solutions to problems, employees with the motivation and drive for increased profitability that rivals the business owner, and the passion to make a success of what they do. So the real question isn’t why should you spend time nurturing and empowering that ambition – but why wouldn’t you?
It’s Not Rocket Science
You might think at this stage I’m teaching you how to suck eggs. And in some ways, I am. Because the truth is that a lot of business owners know this stuff. Anyone who’s worked in management or running a business for any length of time will have seen all of these things in motion probably more than once. But you might not have connected the dots before, and realised that one of the simplest ways you can boost the success of your business is to invest time and money into nurturing and empowering your future leaders. That means addressing all of their needs both as employees and as humans, and creating a supportive environment for them to flourish.
And the good news is, all of the suggestions I’ve made for empowering those ambitious individuals and helping them become the best leaders they can be really aren’t that complicated. So much so, that many businesses and organisations have already started to make changes. Some of those changes are big, others are small, but they all help in levelling the playing field for everyone in the business and giving ambitious people the nurturing environment and feeling of empowerment they need to achieve great things. To show you exactly what I mean (and why empowering people might not always look the way you think it should), here are 4 examples of measures already being taken either by individual companies or the government to address these issues and provide their employees with the best environment possible.
Bereavement Leave After Miscarriage
Losing a pregnancy is a devastating thing, and something that no one deserves to go through. But the sad truth is that around 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in miscarriage, and over 80% of miscarriages happen in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Under current UK law, you are not entitled to take any time off if you have a miscarriage before the end of your 24th week in pregnancy. Instead, you can ask your employer for compassionate leave (usually 1 or 2 weeks), or you can ask to take annual leave, or a period of unpaid leave. None of which are supportive of parents going through a traumatic and emotional period in their lives. In New Zealand, the government are making waves by implementing paid bereavement leave for families experiencing pregnancy loss and have already received positive feedback. So much so that some UK companies are taking note.
Most notable is Monzo – a UK challenger bank that recently introduced a policy of paid leave for employees who have suffered a pregnancy loss. Their policy covers miscarriage, abortion or still birth, and paid leave is available to all – mothers, partners or surrogate mothers. This not only shows that they understand the difficulty pregnancy loss can cause, but also that it doesn’t just affect women or heterosexual couples. The policy covers up to 10 days of leave, and managers could approve extra leave if they felt the staff member was not ready to return to work. On top of that, Monzo has set up an employee support group for employees going through similar journeys, as well as offering staff and their partners an extra 8 days off a year if they are undergoing fertility treatments, known as ‘fertility leave’. It’s one of the most inclusive and supportive policies I’ve ever seen, and has gone a long way to empowering a lot of women to feel comfortable pursuing both their career and their desire for a family, when in other workplaces they may have felt forced to choose between the two. As I mentioned earlier, women have always faced the struggle of choosing between a family and a career, so this is a massive step towards removing that barrier.
Also joining this journey towards bereavement leave after miscarriage in the UK are Channel 4, ZIP and Yulife.
Equal Parental Leave
When anyone has a child, their entire life will change, and there is a big adjustment period to go through. But while this change affects both parents, the law and most current workplaces only really have accommodations in place for mothers. Statutory maternity leave is currently 52 weeks, made up of ordinary maternity leave for 26 weeks, and additional maternity leave for the last 23 weeks. And while women don’t have to take the whole 52 weeks, they are required to take 2 weeks after the baby is born by law. During that time you are paid 90% of your average earnings for the first 39 weeks as statutory maternity pay. Why am I going into so much detail here? To highlight just how bad the imbalance is between genders in this area. Because men who have a child are entitled to 1 to 2 weeks of paid paternity leave. That’s it. If they want to take any further time off they can, but it is unpaid. If companies want to offer more paid leave they can, but they receive no help from the government to cover it, and many companies simply choose to offer the legal minimum. That means fathers and non-birthing parents are put at a disadvantage both at home and at work. At home, they only have 2 weeks to really bond with their child, spend that quality time, and support their partner through recovery before they have to go back to work. But the quality of their work will suffer too, because babies are hard work, and the sleepless nights will mean many new parents don’t function as well during the day.
Thankfully some companies have recognised this as an issue, and have started offering ‘equal parental leave’. Aviva is one of the companies championing this movement, and their equal parental leave policy states that:
- In the UK, Aviva offers up to one year of leave, of which 26 weeks’ is at full basic pay for parents employed by the company within the first 12 months of a child’s arrival. This applies to employees in all UK offices and locations. Aviva’s parental leave policy entitlement includes:
- Equal amount of paid and unpaid parental leave when a new child arrives, including adoption and surrogacy.
- Is available to full-time and part-time employees across all levels of the company.
- No requirement to share the parental leave between parents.
- If both parents are employees of Aviva, each has their own entitlement to leave and pay, which they can take at the same time.
Again, this is a fantastic policy that includes everyone and supports parents as much as possible – meaning parents are not left feeling like a struggling group who are at a disadvantage, or don’t have the same opportunities as others in the workplace just because they’re parents.
Gender Pay Gap Reporting
Now this is one that the government has got behind. The gender pay gap has been a hot topic for many years now, with women across all industries reporting that they are paid less than their male co-workers (sometimes significantly less) for doing exactly the same job. This is almost certainly a hangover from the days when women first joined the workplace, but in a modern world we recognise that women can be just as intelligent and skilled as men in every area, and their pay should not be decided based on their gender.
The gender pay gap is defined as the difference between average hourly earnings (excluding overtime) of men and women as a proportion of average hourly earnings (excluding overtime) of men’s earnings. The gender pay gap in our country is around 8.6% for full-time workers, and a staggering 17.9% for part-time workers. There is even a gender pay gap in pensions, with women only earning around a third of what men do for pensions by the time they reach retirement. To put this in perspective, women in their 60s have an average of £51,100 in their private pension pots, while men of the same age have an average of £156,500.
In 2017 the UK government introduced something called gender pay gap reporting. All employers with a headcount of more than 250 employees had to calculate and publicly display their average pay gap data. These calculations were to be made based on employer payroll data drawn from a specific date each year, called a ‘snapshot date’. This not only forced larger businesses to review their pay practices and address the problem, but it allowed prospective employees to find out exactly how fair a employers pay is, since the data has to be displayed in a public way on their website.
In terms of your business, hiring ambitious people will actually help you to achieve this, as well as attracting more ambitious people to your organisation. Employees with ambition will challenge your business in all sorts of ways, helping you stay on the cutting edge. This goes for things like services, products and processes, but also for things like bereavement leave, gender inclusivity and equality as well. They want to be proud of the organisation they work for, and they are the ones who will be proactive in making the business something to be proud of.
C-Suite Equality and Diversity
Equality in the C-Suite is something that’s been a hot topic for a while now, but the spotlight has only been on part of the problem. For many years now the conversation has been all about getting more women into the boardroom. And it’s true, women have always been shockingly underrepresented in board rooms across the world, and even now are still only representing 38% of leadership and board c-suite positions. But the problem is wider than that – because ethnic diversity is also at an all time low in the c-suite. Because while many companies have focussed on hiring a diverse workforce, they haven’t paid the same attention to their retention and promotion efforts.
But when businesses who have a gender and ethnically diverse boardroom are 35% more likely to outperform others and 35% more likely to have better financial success than others in their industry, why is this even an argument we’re having anymore? The benefits of equality and diversity (increased productivity, profitability, employee retention, market presence, reputation and increased innovation) are well documented. So what you need to do is look at the leaders within your business – all of them, not just the current c-suite – and ask yourself – how diverse and inclusive is my board room? It might be a tough question, but it’s worth it in the end.
Examples for this approach might all seem small, but they had a big impact on the companies and workers within them. For example, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson and Wikimedia Foundation CEO Katherine Maher have both spoken openly about refusing to fill a leadership position until they have a diverse slate of candidates to choose from. Sallie Krawcheck (CEO of Ellevest) describes deciding to hire people for leadership who can bring in new perspectives over those who had similar backgrounds to others in the organisation. All openly acknowledge that setting and following through on diversity goals is the most effective method for increasing underrepresentation of women and minorities. Don’t believe me? Susan Wojcicki (CEO of YouTube) asks managers for updates on their numbers around diversity regularly. Through efforts focused on supporting other women, providing longer maternity leave, and funding women’s groups, she has increased the representation of female employees from 24% to nearly 30% since taking over as CEO in 2014. Starbucks has the goal of increasing the representation of women and minorities in leadership by 50% in the next 5 years through expanding their leadership pipeline and holding leadership accountable to their diversity and inclusion goals.
The lesson that can be learnt from all of these amazing companies is that empowering ambitious people within your business doesn’t have to be difficult, and it isn’t rocket science. It can be done, it just needs some attention and focus from current leadership to make it happen. And that means taking a step back and looking at your business through a critical eye. Asking yourself the tough questions and examining your company and your culture from an objective point of view. I’m sure there are some things we’ve already covered that have set off some twinges of recognition – things you know are issues in your own company, or that you suspect might be. Now is the time to evaluate what you’re doing (or not doing) and make a real, concerted effort to change. After all, that effort could end up increasing your company profits tenfold – which I would say is definitely a good ROI!
What Can You Do About It?
I’m starting with this one, because it’s simultaneously the most effective thing you can do, and the most simple. And that’s asking people what they need! If you’ve been managing your employees properly, then you probably already know exactly who your high-fliers are, and who your ambitious people are. You probably also know who your struggling groups are, and you may even think you know why they’re struggling. So now is the time to have an open conversation with those people, and ask for feedback. Find out what the people working inside your company think and feel, and what their real, lived experiences are. This kind of insight can help you see some issues you were blind to, and can be the first step to making real and effective change. So your first step should be talking to your employees, either one on one, anonymously or in a group setting, and finding out what specific areas you could improve in.
Training & Development
Next up is to get yourself educated – and that means training. After all, you don’t stop learning just because you left school, and if you’re not sure where to start with nurturing the ambitious people in your business, then the best thing you can do is ask for help. This is one of the areas I can really help you with. As a coach I believe that ambition is not a dirty word, and my goal is to create safe spaces where ambitious businesses and ambitious people can work and develop together. I run interactive workshops and one on one coaching to help you understand where the roadblocks are in your business for ambitious people, and identify what you need to do to break through them. With my help, you can create a nurturing and empowering environment for everyone in your business, and provide them with the tools they need to truly succeed.
On the other side of things, training is also a fantastic thing to offer to your employees. Personal development opportunities are one of the top requests of ambitious employees. Their ambition means they want to grow, learn new skills, and test themselves in new things. So give them the opportunity to do just that! Whether that’s 1-2-1 coaching, group workshops or upskill training courses.
Openness to Ideas
A big part of feeling empowered in any situation is feeling like you have a voice, and that your voice will be listened to. And thankfully, this is a very simple step to achieve, because all you have to do is listen and be receptive to new ideas. Often in a workplace when an employee suggests a new idea, it’s met with one of two responses: ‘I’ll take it on board’, or ‘if I wanted your opinion I’d ask for it’. The first response is universal language for ‘I’m pretending to care but will never think about it again’, and the second is just downright dismissive and rude. This can lead to employees withdrawing, never suggesting new solutions to problems because they don’t feel their opinion will be listened to. But while some employees may have some awful ideas, others will have amazing new ways of working that could revolutionise your business – and you won’t know unless you listen are open to new ideas. Making sure every employee is listened to respectfully and in turn will increase empowerment and confidence in your employees, and make those fledgling leaders comfortable enough to achieve great things.
Embrace Flexible Working
Thanks to Covid-19 flexible working is something most businesses have embraced in one way or another. So now I want to ask you – what impact have you seen? Have you seen productivity rise, sick days lower, and employee happiness improve? Most businesses have. But many have also seen an increase in the number of ambitious employees making the most of the new patterns. Whether that’s junior workers on job shares, mums with kids at home with renewed flexibility or other ambitious people – there are plenty of employees who have been taking advantage of new alternative working patterns and making them work for them, in a way that accelerates their progress, rather than slowing them down. Part of this is because every individual works best in different ways, and by allowing employees to work in the way that is most effective for them, they are also encouraging them to work harder, and giving them the space they need to achieve more. Give your employees a bit more power and control over the way they work, and you may well unleash a lot more potential than you realise.
Create a Culture of Challenging
I’m not going to beat around the bush here – there are still plenty of harmful attitudes in the workplace nowadays. Plenty of things going on and being said that are not only stopping ambitious people from having their voices heard, but actively tearing down people in those struggling groups and stopping them from flourishing. Some of this might be obvious, but more often than not this kind of behaviour is subtle, often disguised as ‘banter’, but incredibly toxic. If you want to nurture great leaders for your business, you also need to nurture a positive business environment. Which might lead to some difficult and uncomfortable conversations – because you need to start challenging people who say fucked up things in the workplace. Even disguised as jokes or done behind closed doors, racism, sexism, classism and any other form of ism is only going to bring harm to your employees and your business. Sexual harassment and discrimination policies are an essential tool for businesses wanting to support their ambitious employees, and they need to be enforced at every level. So starting at the top, challenge the people saying negative things, and encourage others to do the same. Nurturing a positive environment in your business is crucial for creating the leaders of tomorrow, and ensuring your business will survive.
Money vs Non-Monetary Motivations
Finally, remember that not everything is about money! While making sure your salaries are fair, you’re offering equal pay and providing bonuses, often it’s the smaller, non-monetary rewards that keep staff engaged, make them feel cared for, and inspire better performance and progression. Providing monetary rewards is a way to create an emotional connection with your employees, humanise their contribution to your business, and create that safe and nurturing environment that true leaders and high performers are born from. And the good news is, there are loads of different types of non-monetary rewards you can try! For example:
- Flexible working (see above)
- Time to work on their own passion projects
- More autonomy at work
- Extra leave (anything from an extra days annual leave to longer lunch breaks)
- Recognition and awards
- Education and personal development opportunities
- Gym memberships
- Free meals
- Wellbeing session in the workplace
- Volunteering opportunities
- Health benefits for them and family
- One on one mentoring with leadership
And that’s just a few! Honestly, the sky is the limit, and if you’re not sure what the best option for your employees is, the best thing to do is ask them! The thing to remember here is that non-cash rewards are more memorable, and they have much more of an emotional value to each employee. And the best part? A lot of the benefits I mentioned in that list will also provide that nurturing and empowerment for your budding leaders. Putting people in charge of their own time and deliverables can be scary, but it could be one of the best things you do for your business.
If you take one thing away from this paper, make it this. Ambition isn’t a dirty word. And if you aren’t the one recognising, nurturing and empowering the ambitious people in your business, then someone else out there will. It’s my job to not only help you recognise that fact, but to give you the knowledge and tools you need to create the perfect environment for ambitious people to thrive. I’m on a mission to empower 10,000 ambitious individuals to create fulfilling, phenomenal and unlimited careers in the next 3 years, and a bit part of that mission is making sure businesses know what that looks like, and how best to support them in achieving their dreams.
So, do you want to bring out the best in your team, and send start making that extra dollar? Then nurture and empower those ambitious people in your business. Need some support doing that? I got you.
Get in touch using this link to start a conversation, and become the best version of your business you can be.