Organisations are not intrinsically altruistic: they are naturally avaricious. To a degree they have to be, because there are bank and finance payments to consider, shareholder dividends to pay, acquisitions and investments to make and last, but by no means least, executive bonuses to cater for.
Ambition viewed positively might be considered as aspirational whereas ambition viewed with suspicion might be considered avaricious. This is where the great majority of organisations lie, particularly in Western Europe, where the levels of trust between organisations and their workforce remain entrenched within a culture of medieval feudalism, between those who toil and those who benefit. The serf and lord mentality, which in various guises has shaped the upstairs downstairs of organisational culture in Western Europe and our perceptions of ego, status and position.
However, the same is less obvious in the Americas where historical and behavioural precedents are generally less entrenched. Who would have thought, for example, that an Afro-American of Kenyan descent, would become the President of the United States” In America, there is a greater propensity to accept people for what they are and not necessarily for what they represent. Ambition is recognised, applauded and mostly rewarded. Ambition is seen as positive and aspirational, because America is a younger, more vibrant culture, which doesn’t labour under the burden of historical and behavioural precedence. Australia also possesses many of the same characteristics, for precisely the same reasons.
In Western Europe, we often refer to the ambition and enthusiasm of our American colleagues with a combination of envy and suspicion. We envy their enthusiasm and we suspect their motives, but we can never deny their ability to paint a positive future, particularly in adverse circumstances; and the reason for that positive enthusiasm comes from an innate trust in themselves and their abilities.
They’ve never experienced the autocracy of medieval feudalism which relies on the great and the good to do right by the many. Their culture was built around individualism and self-sufficiency from the start, which fostered an innate belief that success comes from a trust and a self-belief in oneself. In many ways, history has enabled them to find just the right balance to always take a positive can-do, point-of-view. Hence their ability to bounce back from adversity and to re-invent themselves time and again. Likewise with Australians and their never-say-die fighting spirit; particularly in the world of sport.
Historical precedents determine that ancient cultures, wherever they may be, have a tendency to look backwards for their inspiration, whilst those shaped in the New World, can only look forward. As organisations struggle to search for the green shoots of their own particular recovery, they will find greater inspiration from being aspirationally ambitious and by trusting those aspirations with those they expect to carry them out.