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Don't place limits on where ambitions can lead.

Summary: Senior executives must get out of the habit of imposing restrictions on their staff

By Dr. Tommy Weir, Special to Gulf News

"Why do you want more? You have such a good job."

It's puzzling why a boss would ever say something as ludicrous and try to temper ambition. This thinking stands juxtaposed to what I believe about leadership, which is that your primary job is to help others to succeed. And you should do this even if one of your team members has an ambition that usurps yours.

Some leaders view this thought as grounds for a feud, wondering, "How in the world would you ever help somebody achieve more?" And I wonder the opposite - with just as much vigour - why wouldn't you?

Sadly, too many leaders are in the camp that doesn't help. Just the other evening I listened to another leader express absolute frustration that his chief wasn't in his corner and wouldn't help him. The boss told him to get rid of his ambition and be satisfied with his current job.

Each time I hear a story like this, which is regularly, I wonder, "Does the boss understand what he's doing to overall productivity?"

Instead of tempering ambition, you need to build it, fuel it, celebrate it. Great leaders - real leaders - concentrate on building the team's ambition as this is the best way to achieve more. Make your team hungry to want more.

Just after Dubai discovered oil and began to acquire some wealth, Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum famously said, " ... [W]hat is the point of keeping it in the bank? I'm looking ahead, perhaps 50 years. We've got money, so what is the point of keeping it in the bank?

"Eventually we will need more capacity, and then it could cost us double or triple the price to build it."

He wisely stretched Dubai's revenues as much as he could "today", to avoid getting gouged, tomorrow.

This led to his choosing to invest Dubai's new wealth in building another - a third - port. His advisers, mainly merchants based around the traditional trading areas of Deira and Bur Dubai, wished he would reconsider, or at least delay the construction. At the time, Mina Rashid, Dubai's second port, was being expanded.

So why a new port? And why in Jebel Ali, an undeveloped stretch of coastline far from the central business district? It was literally in the middle of nowhere.

A number of businessmen went to His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, trying to get him to talk his father out of proceeding.

"You know that you have special standing with your father and that he listens to you," one of the businessmen said. "Your father wants to build a new port at Jebel Ali. We beg you to tell him that we already have a big port at Port Rashid - it is adequate. The country is suffering from stagnation, and the new port will lead to overcapacity and losses."

When a suitable opportunity came up, Shaikh Mohammad told his father what the businessmen said. Shaikh Rashid said, "I am building this port now because there will come a time when you won't be able to afford it."

The argument was settled, and what is arguably the UAE's most valuable commercial asset was born. The Jebel Ali Port and surrounding free zone (today one of the biggest in the world) contribute significantly more to Dubai's gross domestic product (GDP) than oil does.

Shaikh Mohammad explains, "My father was the first to think of this project. If the project had been suggested to consultants or subjected to an economic feasibility study, it would never have been implemented."

This stroke of genius highlights what leaders are meant to do - have an ambitious appetite.

He teaches us to personally have ambition and build it in others. Never, ever, let your team be satisfied with what they have. Make them want more than they ever dreamed of.

The desire to achieve is addictive. When huge ambition is the common, everyday thinking around you, it naturally becomes your own habit. Think bigger than they can, to make them achieve more.

The question is: Are you hungry enough to achieve grand results? To achieve what others are afraid to even talk about?

Your level of ambition is your choice, so chose big.

- The writer is a CEO coach and author of "Leadership Dubai Style". Contact him at

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Aug 22, 2016
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