On the other hand, I said, big huge goals are not as helpful. When an intern tells me he wants to be the CEO someday, I'm not entirely sure how to help him with that. Especially if he's not exactly hitting it out the park as an intern! As a manager I don't want to deflate or demoralize anyone, so when somebody has huge goals it makes me more hesitant to be brutally honest with something they need to improve today... unless they tell me directly they want me to be brutally honest, and assure me that they're ready. This doesn't happen as often as it should.
My advice got mixed reviews in the crowd though. One manager said he had exactly that, an intern who wanted to shoot straight to the top, and you know what? This young person did do very well, moved up faster than others, he's a director or something now and his vision really helped.
I realized that a high percentage of CEOs probably did have ambition that other people thought was too strong. Maybe that'll be my question for senior leaders... who were you at age 23?
But does it work the other way? A high percentage of CEOs have ambition, but do a high percentage of 23 year-olds with ambition become great leaders?
I was ambitious but not in a "I want to climb to the top" way. I wanted to earn respect, I wanted to be the go-to, I wanted my coworkers to think I was smart. At some point along the way, about 5-10 years in, I started asking about leading people.
Where's the balance? Do I sound like a "dang kids get off my lawn" kind of fogey if I tell new hires to calm it down and do next week's job first? When is ambition healthy, and when does it annoyingly get in the way?