Today’s marketplace challenges require a different kind of thinking and leadership than ever before. It’s no longer enough to keep pace. Waiting to react can often mean missing opportunities. Leaders seem to be faced with one of two choices: disrupt themselves or be disrupted by someone else. Leaders can easily find themselves bombarded with the threat of technological obsoletion, disintermediation, or faster, more nimble businesses taking over their market.

But there is good news. With all that going on, leaders have a big resource available that remains constant in its effectiveness for causing change and staying highly competitive. Leaders can always bring the willingness to push themselves and their organizations to a new place. It requires them to challenge the assumptions underlying their business model and create the necessary performance edge with their people and organizations.

Like any approach, it can be studied and learned. Striving relentlessly for the very best performance has always been desirable, but the current environment has made it essential.

What Has Worked in the Past Will Not Work in the Future

For decades, management focused primarily on a paradigm of efficiency, hierarchy, and incentive-based motivation to drive performance and predictability. It worked well because most marketplace environments served customers and consumers who did not have access to a lot of information, and the information that did exist flowed at a fairly slow pace.

Senior executives could rely on their established systems for manufacturing, distribution, and sales. Companies earned a share of wallet by directly educating customers about products and services. It was straightforward to gain a first-mover advantage with a good idea or innovation, given the amount of time it would take for competitors to observe and adjust to strategies and tactics. Well-managed companies could count on a stable, loyal workforce. Meeting expectations was often enough.

But management philosophy has had to change.

Leaders recognize that past paradigms of management can no longer serve as the scaffolding for successful organizations of the future. A shift toward purpose and ambition is becoming imperative as employees seek a bigger, more meaningful context for their work, one that often goes beyond the operational context fueling many of today’s organizations.

Two-thirds of Millennials state their organization’s purpose is the reason they choose an employer, and only 15% believe a company’s purpose is to produce and sell goods and services1. Employees want to be inspired and challenged, not just competently managed. They have more choice on where they spend their working hours, and they are committed to making an impact beyond making a living.

Figure 1: Evolution of management

Additionally, leadership concerns have evolved from a focus on international competition to the unprecedented rate of change driven by technology. Business productivity has not kept pace with technological progress. Growth in business productivity (GDP per hour worked) stands at its lowest rate since the early 1970s. At the same time, corporate lifespan is shrinking. Only 12% of Fortune 500 companies from 1955 are still in business as the average lifespan of an organization dropped from 75 to 15 years.

Figure 2: Average lifespan in Fortune 500 ranking With employees demanding purpose and ambition, and the rate of change driving a crisis of productivity and longevity, there is a clear need for a different approach altogether.

Successful leaders of the future must possess a willingness to push into a more ambitious zone than ever before—and develop the skills to lead and navigate their organizations through this zone over and over.

Committing to and delivering beyond what’s expected pushes leaders, and their organizations, into another zone—an Ambition Zone.