What is missing in most of today’s underperforming organizations, is a collective mood of ambition and the corresponding commitment it engenders that carries organizations to new levels of success. 

Evidence of missing ambition is revealed in: 

  • A lack of commitment to learning from failed goals in order to improve future performance  
  • Discussions of shortfalls that lack meaningful exploration which could surface root causes and new countermeasures 
  • Opinions and certainties voiced as “facts,” and familiar “more/faster” business strategies that lead to the same, undesirable results 
  • An unwillingness to commit to bigger, difference-making goals and strategies because leaders aren’t absolutely certain how to proceed or if they will succeed  

Collectively, these choices signal an underlying earnestness that is absent. As poor choices, coupled with a lack of wholehearted commitment leads to missed goals, a mood of resignation sets in, gets perpetually reinforced, and becomes embedded. Teams begin to hold back and view future possibilities through the lens of past shortfalls, creating a downward spiral of progressively smaller and smaller vision and ambition. Unfortunately, less significant goals are a recipe for less significant accomplishments and progressive loss of competitiveness in the marketplace.  

What if instead, goals evoked a mood of confidence and courage to lean-in to strategies never tried before, to earnestly build new capabilities? What if your people were inspired, enlivened and maybe a bit fearful when you shared these goals?  

Goals that are truly relevant and meaningful call us to do work that is beyond what we know and feel we are capable of. Meaningful goals call us to grow as an individual performer, rather than just creating organizational growth. This is what’s required to flip the switch on collective ambition and commitment.   

Learning to Shape Moods 

So how can you transform the moods of depleted ambition and ineffective action to generate an atmosphere of inspired ambition and bold action? 

Understanding how to shift organizational moods starts with developing the awareness and capacity to shift your own moods. The sequence outlined below will raise your awareness of the moods influencing you, and highlight how to shift your interpretations and corresponding mood, to surface more impactful choices and actions. 

Step 1: Surveying Survey underperforming areas in your work and working relationships. For example, is there a situation you feel resigned about? Something you’re not optimistic will change? Maybe it’s a team member whose competence you question, an effort where you see blame emerging, or an area you’re uncertain how to move forward. Choose a pressing concern and name the negative mood that underlies the challenge. 

Step 2: Gaining Insight What concern(s) for the future are informed by your mood? How is it influencing your expectations for the future? Is it contracting or expanding possibilities? Are you confident your current interpretation and choices will markedly improve the situation, or are you allowing your interpretation to get in the way of seeing and taking more productive action? 

Step 3: Generate Commitment Make the decision to own, and alter, your unproductive mood and relationship to the situation and people associated with it. Be specific about how you are going to interrupt an existing mood and invoke a new, more ambitious one. 

Step 4: Gaining Visibility To move forward, you must loosen your belief that your assessment of the situation is correct. When you are certain you are “right,” curiosity evaporates and vision becomes limited. Gaining visibility is about escaping current interpretations used to justify where you choose to hold back rather than acting. It’s about orienting from a higher ground. What observable evidence is in opposition to your point of view? What might you be missing? Your goal in this step is to see things from more perspectives. 

Step 5: Vision Notice how your attention in step 4 was often focused on the past; interpretations focused on the past undermine personal power and collapse larger ambition. Take responsibility for shifting your mood by reflecting on the following question: What more empowering interpretations about the future can I surface? Generate a list of productive assessments that puts you back in control of your circumstances. Notice how expanding possibilities nurture your ambition. 

Step 6: Generate Actions Leverage your expanded interpretation to uncover what’s missing in your current choices. What might need to be explored further (e.g. a request) or expressed (e.g. an apology)? What new options for potential action were previously out of view? Declare the actions you will put in motion. 


None of us are immune to getting trapped in unproductive moods, but when those moods keep us from achieving our strategic objectives, they can and must be shifted. When you are not showing up with adequate aspirations and passion, your organization will lack the energy to escape the comfort and familiarity of its current performance.  

Since effective leadership requires moving a community of people to action, leaders must become skilled in shaping their own moods and the moods of their teams. By building organizations filled with ambitious, excited, curious, flexible and connected people, no summit is out of reach. 

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