Entitlement and Leadership
The cliché of the executive washroom to which the entitled Chief Executive dispenses access like cash is a staple of many of the Reagan-era Hollywood depictions of the corporate leader. It was (then) a perfect description of how those outside the boardroom viewed life inside. It definitely was the kind of image that was likely to strike a nerve in the American movies-watching public, which has retained for over 200+ years a deep mistrust of the concept of inherited title and a love of the underdog. The “leader as royalty”” has always been somewhat acceptable to the American public as long as it was clear that the person “earned” their way into the position. In short, Americans like to choose their royalty themselves.
It would be fair to say the perception of the “out of touch” leader, bumbling through the day without any meaningful connection to what is happening around them is a sensitive topic to the average American in the workplace. Scott Adams has made a career out of exploiting this through his comic strip and Hollywood continues to make money off it. The missing link here is that the concept of entitlement is not strictly limited to those who enjoy some sort of elevated station around the water cooler. Entitlement is a thought process that strikes everyone, equally. Of even more concern is the current generational evolution taking place while Baby Boomers depart the workplace in ever increasing numbers and their places are taken by Gen X’ers and Gen Y’ers, who, according to the experts are more “me” centered, and who generally think in the reverse of President Kennedy’s challenge to the nation in 1961 by asking “what can this organization do for me”?
The notion of entitlement in the workplace is covered well by Mark Murphy at Leadership IQ. From his perspective, he noted numerous parallels in the relationships between managers and employees that was reminiscent of parents and children. Murphy placed some of the blame on managers who insisted on treating employees like children, whether “for their own good” or because “they couldn’t be trusted”. If either of those descriptions sounds like thoughts going through your head, it might be time for some reflection. The response to any dynamic between managers and the team which suggests a lack of empowerment, or accountability, is to make sure everyone is speaking in the “adult” voice. Adults (as opposed to parents or children) have an equal relationship with every person they talk to, and more importantly, take responsibility, or accountability, for figuring out things on their own, and being independent.
Entitlement in the work place often appears as selfishness. It sounds like “that’s not my job description” or “I did it just the way you told me to”. It sounds like a constant refrain of “We/I are not appreciated in what we do so why keep doing it”? It also looks like narcissism when someone continually demands the best or most resources, feels their time is more valuable than others, or feels entitled to ignore the “norms” that the rest of the team accepts.
Ultimately, the thinking style that defines “entitlement” boils down to an expectation of “compensation” for delivering nothing of value, or conversely by placing a value on something that by itself contributes nothing to the product of the organization (such as seniority). What is the danger of “entitlement”? Nothing less than the future of your team. An entitled culture often looks at change as a threat. Knowledge of current systems and practices usually denotes power, and changing the rules (and equipment) of the game redistributes power. An entitled culture looks at potential changes to the organization in terms of how it will affect them first. An entitled culture generally has no idea of the big picture, and under most circumstances could care less about the world beyond their cube.
The antidote, for everyone, is developing a Responsibility Mindset. Leaders, and those who act leader-like, serve the team and the organization first, before self. Sacrifice is commitment. Questions are answered first by thinking about what’s best for the organization, and then, what is best for the team. Leaders own the problem, and are reluctant to pass it on to someone else.
As you do a full systems check on your leadership style, and consider where you stand in your organization, consider which culture you are fostering. Are you an “Entitlement” leader or a “Responsibility” leader?