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When “ready-to-think” puts the brakes on talent development. – Nicole Gelée, Senior Consultant / Executive Coach, Grant Alexander – Leadership Development for FocusRH

“Are you ambitious?” At the start of the coaching session, my interlocutor seems to hesitate between astonishment, contempt and disgust. He replies, in the expected manner, that he doesn’t ask himself the question in these terms, that he’s wary of ambition, that on reflection, yes, he may have ambitions, but that they are plural, collective, turned towards others and of course that they are “healthy”. I understand his reaction perfectly: like “power”, “ambition” is a taboo word in the corporate world. It’s only used with great caution, and never to talk about oneself. And, of course, the taboo plays its social role here: it reminds us that our behavior cannot be purely selfish, that it must be directly or indirectly directed towards something greater than ourselves.


You can’t just be ambitious for yourself, and above all you can’t be ambitious to the detriment of everyone else and your company’s project. So why ask this question? Precisely to encourage my interviewee to ask himself the right questions, to think outside the box, to “dig deeper” into the subject to better identify what makes him unique and reveal the full richness of his personality: his experience, his aptitudes, his aspirations, his way of working.




Indeed, if we censor ourselves too easily and too often, contenting ourselves with reproducing commonly accepted interpretations without even paying attention, we sometimes limit our field of reflection. Asking the question of personal ambition in this way means breaking out of a comfort zone that confines this notion to upward mobility and its shortcomings. It means recognizing the polysemy of the word, and thus being able to evoke the diversity of the driving forces behind a person’s commitment. It lays the essential foundations for a fruitful, honest and deeply human exchange. The point is to identify what really motivates the person, what drives them forward, what are their driving forces and resources. Rather than getting stuck on a definitive moral judgment, the person is invited to express his or her ambition freely, whatever it may be: to progress in order to take on more responsibility, to achieve a better work-life balance in order to devote more time to the family while increasing productivity, to improve English in order to develop internationally… how are these various ambitions, in themselves, “good” or “bad”? The only question is whether, and under what conditions, these drivers can be reconciled with the company’s project and values.




Let’s take another example. Many people pride themselves on being “influential”. On the other hand, no one will boast that they like to “manipulate” those around them! Admittedly, here again, the difference in terms reflects a difference in meaning: we can encourage influence that enables others to progress, that enables us to share a strong conviction, that federates a group towards a common goal; on the other hand, we must combat phenomena of psychological manipulation exercised in the interests of a single individual, which do not benefit the company and which create unease and even suffering in the workplace.

But there’s more. When we talk about influence, we always end up evoking a personal approach: a preferred tactic, a mastered technique, a well-established way of acting, a know-how nurtured by experience but based on a constant framework that reflects the strengths of the individual, the levers he or she knows how to use to get others to adopt his or her point of view. By daring to question the term “manipulation”, without making any a priori moral judgements, we are, on the contrary, giving ourselves the opportunity to evoke a whole range of behaviours and postures, scenarios and modes of operation. What am I trying to change in the other person’s state of mind or behavior? How might the other person react? Why or why not? How can I adapt to their reaction? In this way, we come face to face with the unexpected, even the unknown. We broaden our horizons, taking into account other ways of thinking, seeing things, even acting. This is how you become more agile, but also more energetic and convincing.

In reality, like many other terms used on a daily basis in the workplace, taboo words generate images and interpretations that are partly cultural, in the zeitgeist, sometimes sincere, but too often no longer even questioned.




In coaching and training, one of the main objectives is to apprehend the complexity of situations and the diversity of a team – the coexistence of different profiles, viewpoints and behaviors – as a source of enrichment and personal and collective performance. The challenge is to recognize, accept, understand, appreciate and draw on the diversity of individuals and managers. To achieve this, we need to be willing to confront otherness. Questioning unfamiliar words and concepts, challenging our preconceptions and habitual interpretations, can help. To get answers, we first need to ask ourselves the right questions, the ones that get us out of our comfortable but all too reductive little boxes, stamped and categorized behaviors, Manichean approaches. Freeing ourselves from ready-to-think also means avoiding settling for ready-to-act.




Read the article on FocusRH