Entitled. Demanding. Pushy. This is how earlier generations describe the Ambitionists, and they might not be wrong. But Ambitionists are also motivated, educated, and willing to work hard to achieve their admittedly lofty goals. Conversely, this generation has strong feelings about the generations that preceded them. To borrow a baseball analogy from the Americans, when asked about the earlier generations, Ambitionists often feel that “they started life on third base, yet they act like they hit a triple”. For Ambitionists, the Diplomats (1973-1984) and the Precisionists (1961-1972) are the most entitled generations, mostly because they had it relatively easy career-wise, all while looking down and judging those generations that did not. With such strong feelings among every generation, integrating Ambitionists into the workforce would have been difficult. The Great Recession only threw oil on the fire.
A client of mine once told a story that is a perfect microcosm of the Ambitionist experience. My client, a Precisionist, was an Executive Vice President at a large multinational. As part of a programme to develop the next generation of women leaders, she was chosen to mentor an up-and-coming employee, an Ambitionist, in her division. Because of the company’s structure, it was rare for someone at the Ambitionist’s level to interact with an Executive Vice President. Both sides enjoyed the mentor-mentee relationship; they discussed Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In quite a bit, and they considered how the Ambitionist could take proactive steps to further her career. Then, one day, my client received a forwarded email from the company president. In that email, the Ambitionist, unbeknownst to my client, used my client’s name and relationship to establish a connection with the company president. My client felt betrayed, yet her mentee felt like she had done nothing wrong. Who was right?
To my client, this is not what “leaning in” was supposed to look like. Like the members of her generation, she had “paid her dues” and slowly worked her way up the career ladder. Moreover, as a woman, she felt that it was especially difficult to earn her spot. So, when she felt like she had invested time and energy into mentoring the Ambitionist, she felt betrayed, but she also felt totally confused. This behaviour pattern just did not make sense. From her point of view, the young woman simply had to pay her own dues. Moreover, she had no right to leverage her hard-earned rapport with the company president. What she did not understand was the mentality of the Ambitionist.
As hockey icon Bob McKenzie once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. For an Ambitionist, there is nothing worse than missing out because you chose not to take a risk. And when you grow up surrounded by risk-takers, you redefine what you consider a “risk”. From her perspective, it would have been lazy to not avail herself of every opportunity available to her. What she did not understand was that she made her mentor feel used.
In the end, the two were able to move past this hiccup and repair their working relationship. It would have been much more difficult had the mentor not understood that the mentee was simply behaving like a typical member of her generation in that scenario. But for the workforce in general, this type of behaviour became extremely grating over time. The next article in this series explores how this intergenerational friction has led to fewer opportunities and the “failure to launch” of many Ambitionists.