Monday, 17 December 2012

First day of Christmas digested: Ambitious Anne

Our first post is dedicated to that person you know who is really fixed on getting ahead. We'll call them Ambitious Anne, though you'll know them by their own name. First, ambitious? Well, good for Anne. Longitudinal research suggests that possessing ambition in spades is an asset over the lifespan of an individual. It influences expected areas such as life attainments - more prestigious jobs, leading to higher income - but also longer life and higher life satisfaction.

If your Anne is a woman, she might be interested in some of the research on career progression and gender we've been covering at the digest. Experimental research has suggested that perceiving that you live in a male-scarce environment may influence women to focus more on how they can personally ensure financial stability and a legacy for themselves, a possible explanation for why US states with fewer men see women taking higher-earning positions. Perhaps an environment not overflowing with men presents a better hot-house for incubating ambition?

Also, help Anne by warding off some false advice: there isn't evidence that she needs to play tough in order to get ahead in business. A large analysis confirms that low agreebleness is correlated with better pay, but also that the effect is driven by males in the sample. And even if your Anne is a man, I wouldn't recommend them to toughen up, as other measures like life satisfaction better correlate with high agreeableness, not low. One thing we can recommend to an ambitious fella is that if he is looking to reach managerial roles in a stereotypically male environment, such as construction, he should be aware that he is likely to be held to less forgiving standards than would a female counterpart: the stereotypical attribution is that 'he has no excuse for failure'

Sticking with gender factors, Anne might want to scrutinise her future, because as a woman it's possible that opportunities she's offered will be especially precarious. Michelle Ryan's body of research has identified the presence of a glass cliff, with a long way to fall, that makes it important to consider the risks as well as the benefits of a big promotion. She may also want to recognise (not accept, as it's not acceptable) that dominant behaviour on her part may be attributed to her temperament, rather than as a tool she uses to get the job done. This attribution bias has been robustly observed, although it disappears for black women in the US, whose minority of a minority status appears to make them an anomaly with fewer norms to violate. Of course, black leaders have other perception issues to contend with, with subordinates viewing their failures as exemplifying incompetence, and their successes as due to the conditional utility of traits that are stereotypical of their race, rather than pertaining to their leadership skill.

Finally, ambitious people tend to be keen to learn from their mistakes and self-improve. So a caution to Anne would be that too much focus on 'learning from failure' can make us unhappy. Instead, an approach that mixes focus on the losses with a 'restorative' strategy, filling your mind with new demands, seems to preserve the insights from mistakes but allow the negative mood to resolve quickly, allowing you to move onto new things.

On top of all that advice, any specific gifts for Anne? How about a mentor? Consult our round-up of when mentoring is most effective. Go on, it's our round....


  1. Wow, a bit of a whirlwind tour through mostly gender-related research. Having unwrapped this gift, I think I will have to lay it by the tree and come back for another look when I am more awake and have had some tea and toast.

  2. First day of the Christmas I celebrate my home in Saima Arabian Villas. I give surprise to my Mom and she was very excited for her gift .