Raising Aspirations

One of the lesser-known leadership characteristics of the Ceannas Leadership Index is “Aspiration: I have high aspirations for other people”. This characteristic features as part of the Parent Lens.

Aspiration is usually something that relates to our own hopes and ambitions in terms of something that we wish to achieve. It is recognised that some people have high aspirations and others have lower aspirations.

As a former teacher and school principal I used to see children who were very motivated by high aspirations for themselves. Such individuals had a significant advantage over their peers whose aspirations might have been significantly lower, albeit their core ability might have been considerably higher.

The role of parenting plays a huge part in sowing these seeds of aspiration. Such motivation comes through role modelling, praise and encouragement, and support with the setting of goals. Of course, as ever, there are parents who don’t know where to set boundaries for themselves and it becomes obvious that the aspirations for the child were imposed from above – with all the disastrous long-term damage that comes from such interference. Nevertheless, the child who benefits from a balanced and encouraging environment, as regards high aspirations, is well placed to succeed in life.

Within the workplace it’s possible to observe many leaders who are primarily focused upon the achievement of the task at hand. They are satisfied if those whom they lead are task focused, effective in their role, and contented with their lot. At first glance, what more could anyone want as a manager?

However, it’s that last word that gets to the heart of the matter: manager or leader?

The manager is concerned with the fulfilment of narrowly defined objectives. The leader sees herself as having responsibility towards the achievement of the task, but also sees that task being complemented by ‘lifting’ the personal and collective ambitions of those in their team, organisation or company.

Think of those leaders who you have had throughout your life – can you distinguish between those who were managers and those who were leaders? What impact did their respective behaviour have upon how you felt about your job, yourself and your ambitions?

Our research indicates that the leader who creates such an environment consistently outperforms those organisations where aspiration is narrowly seen to be solely the preserve of the individual. In this latter scenario the manager typically sees their responsibility for supporting the aspiration of others to be limited to directing others towards the available development and training opportunities.

Yet what is fascinating is that the switch between being a manager and leader isn’t down to some innate behavioural capacity between the two types of behaviour, but a simple internal shift towards explicitly seeing their role to be one of seeking out those opportunities to raise aspirations.

In one sense this is potentially one of the easiest and high impact changes that a leader can make. However, and I’m sure you saw this caveat coming, such is the reluctance of some people to see the idea of aspiration being anything other than a personal driver that it prevents many managers from shifting into a truly powerful ‘leadership’ role.