Sorry Michael Jordan, You Just Aren’t Good Enough…

Did you know that Michael Jordan once failed to make the varsity basketball squad in high school? His coach didn’t think he was ready. This was a cultural lightning strike in Jordan’s life. But Jordan knew he was ready and he worked extremely hard to prove his coach wrong, extraordinarily and embarrassingly wrong. Drive and ambition often come from negative motivation – “I’ll show them.”

For many, drive and ambition are created by the misalignment of what others expect you to be and what you expect of yourself… and the determination to prove them wrong. This resolve gives birth to a strong sense of personal mission, establishes incredible resilience, and energizes them to play above their role – shifting to an alpha mindset.

But while the lightning strike might create drive and ambition, it is just one part of a three-legged stool. There is science at work as well.

Drive and Ambition Three Legged Stool IllustrationWhile genetics (physical energy) don’t necessarily cast the die as to whether or not someone will be ambitious or not, it can make developing a strong drive a little more difficult when a person lacks simple energy. Ambitious or driven people have been known to be more persistent – exerting more energy to remain engaged, involved, and determined. The same part of our brain, limbic system, that is responsible for our emotions is also the part of the brain that is responsible for our drive. The brain takes in whatever it hears, sees, feels, or tastes (cultural lightning) and decides whether or not to exert energy for an emotional reaction. Our drive works the same way. Our brain will cause a reaction by releasing energy into our bloodstream and from the reaction we will respond by either digging in or giving up. The more energy released, the more we dig in. The less energy released, the more likely we are to give up.

In many cases, our drive comes down to our beliefs (psychological belief). This relates back to our expectations compared to the expectations of us from others. If we start to believe what others think and not believe in ourselves, we lose energy toward our goals or pursuits. We lose our persistence. But if we continue to believe in our capabilities despite what others believe, our resilience and persistence remains – even grows. Belief is a powerful force for a leader’s drive.

Ambition and drive is a matter of belief and the ability to overcome doubts and setbacks in pursuit of becoming what you must become – self-actualized. People without drive often struggle to arrive at the self-actualization level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. All wolves aspire to be an alpha in the pack – because, let’s face it the benefits are significant. Their physiological needs are met before the betas – more food, more sex, and a strong likelihood of a long and healthy life, as they’re quite a bit safer than the other betas. Like these wolves, we have an innate desire to survive. It’s instinctive. But according to Maslow, those are just the essentials. Our desire continues beyond just physiological needs and seeks safety, then love, then esteem, then to be everything we were meant to be – the alpha male or female. But just like the wolves, many of us fall into beta mode. We stop believing we’re alphas. We’re told we’re betas. So we settle. We lose our drive and our ambition and adjust to beta life.

Build your drive and ambition by embracing the lightning strikes in your life. Let these strikes increase your motivation to overcome. Develop a personal resolve and belief in the ability to become your ideal self. If you’re like me, pursuing your ideal self is a godly pursuit and worthy of your effort and energy.


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Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 Leadership

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Mike Thompson BlogMike Thompson is the CEO of SVI, a leading organizational development company that provides leadership development services to companies such as Walmart, PepsiCo, Tyson Foods, University of Phoenix and many more. Mike is also the author of McGraw Hill's new leadership book The Organizational Champion.

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