Increasingly, we’re seeing that the best CEOs create ambitions that have two common characteristics:
1. The ambition clearly reflects how value is to be created. On average, 80% of the value created in any industry is captured by the top two players.
In 60% of cases, the scale leader in the industry also captures the highest share of industry value. But in 40% of cases, the economic leader is not the scale leader—the leadership teams understand other ways to capture value beyond scale. The best CEOs understand these value drivers and set an ambition that leverages them. For example, if they are capturing leadership economics through scale, they set an ambition to truly lead the industry. Alternatively, if they are capturing leadership economics by winning the customer loyalty game, their ambition will focus on customer loyalty.
2. The ambition sets out a "nobler mission."
In our work on Founder’s Mentality, we found that the best CEOs maintain their company’s sense of insurgency. All the world’s best company’s start as insurgents, at war against their industry on behalf of underserved customers. But as they succeed in the marketplace, they face the risk—they become the industry incumbent, defining themselves more by industry rules of the game, not the original customer mission. The best CEOs fight this, and ensure their company’s mission reflects a nobler mission—for the benefit of customers, employees and the communities in which they operate.
3. Finally, the best CEOs recognize that the right ambition will inspire their people and provide the energy necessary to embark on the difficult road ahead.
When planning a vacation, people get excited by imagining themselves on the beach or ski slope, not by reading the travel itinerary. Yet when taking charge of their companies and putting together a roadmap of fundamental change, CEOs often take more care in developing and communicating the details (risking "death by PowerPoint") than the compelling vision. Changing a company’s growth trajectory and competitive position demands leaders who can inspire people and provide them with the internal compass to align their subsequent behaviors, decisions and actions. This vision often works more through metaphors and stories than facts, and it emphasizes the destination as well as the journey. It’s a narrative designed to capture hearts and minds. And the more that employees co-create the vision, the more likely it is to succeed.