naga   Professor, A. Nagaraj Subbarao

Alliance University, Bangalore, India

Director – Human Resources


“I would rather be a little nobody, then to be an evil somebody.”   Abraham Lincoln

An often bandied word, used in variously different contexts is ambition. Ambition may be defined as : Eager or inordinate desire for some object that confers distinction, as preferment, honor, superiority, political power, or literary fame; desire to distinguish one’s self from other people. The word itself owes its rather interesting origin to Latin ambition ‎ (“ambition, a striving for favor, literally ‘a going around’, especially of candidates for office in Rome soliciting votes”), from ambitiō ‎(“I go around, solicit votes”).

Ambition drives success is the message that is doled out more often than not to young managers.

The recent murder mystery (well, not so much of a mystery) that has enthralled Indians; where a highly ambitious Indrani, allegedly murdered her daughter is a case in point. Most people who knew Indrani say without hesitation that she was highly ambitious. Where has this untrammelled ambition landed her, if she is indeed guilty?

Hence, possibly we need to be able to distinguish between ambition that is positive and negative, which is good and bad, which leads to sustained success or an eventual abyss. Ambition that drives, efforts for the larger good of the less fortunate as against ambition that is solely inward looking, wherein the person is so selfish that he/she has nothing to offer those looking for succour, is in my opinion the fundamental difference between good and ill directed ambition. One may argue that, selfish ambition, eventually delivers results for the larger good, but my guess is that this rarely happens, as inward looking ambition is so consuming that it devours the person.

A person that many admire is the founder of INFOSYS N. R. Narayanamurthy, whose success may largely be credited to his ambition, hard work and conscientiousness. What was his ambition? He looked to create jobs, put India on the Informational Technology map of the world ( when most people thought of India as poverty ridden land, rich in snake charmers) and create wealth for his investors. Contrast this with Indrani, who unfortunately comes across as a grasping, conniving, small minded woman looking to acquire pelf for herself, at the cost of others. Success driven by ambition has to always be measured against the price that was paid. If humanity has paid too heavy a price, then that success might be one of futility. Chengez Khan, the great Mongol emperor, and his successors, ruled one of the largest empires, geographically, but at humongous cost to humanity, where he slaughtered entire towns for his success. What drove the man? Historians say he looked for immortality – sadly he died, like all of us would one day, when his time came. Ambition for personal well-being is disastrous, but is unfortunately what seems to drive many of us today.

Ambition that drives service for the larger good is what is needed in large measure. I would call it being conscientious and responsible for the results of your ambition and those actions driven by that ambition. Results that are not for the benefit of a larger society are wasted and so are the efforts that caused them. Understanding this would keep us from being blindsided by a word that packs immense power, but which cannot distinguish good from evil.

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