Breaking Entitlement Culture

November 15, 2022

by Stephen T. Messenger

Two of my kids play volleyball and soccer. Over the last five years we’ve moved every summer, and they’ve been a member in over fifteen different sports teams. They join these community and High School teams where the kids all know each other and have been playing together for years.

All these kids have had relationships and interactions since kindergarten. And because they’ve always been on the same team, often with the same coach, many feel entitled to playing a particular position because that’s how it’s always been done.

You Are Owed Nothing

I see this entitled view in the leadership world as well. Many people earn a position or promotion and suddenly feel entitled to certain “benefits” that come with it. They think that because they’ve been moved to the next level or been embedded in an organization for years and years, they are owed.

This could not be further from the truth. Leaders are not owed, they owe. They owe their leadership their best effort to understand their higher level’s intent. They owe the people that work for them their best effort every day to serve the workforce and remove obstacles preventing them from succeeding.

Yet I think we all have examples of a boss who felt they were entitled to special privileges.

Earn It from the Ground Floor

Back to sports and enter the new kids. I watch my children show up and have to earn everything from the ground floor. They’re an unknown entity to coaches who have no idea of their skills and talents.

They’re competing with years of coach-athlete history and have to earn every inch of recognition. They know they’re entitled to nothing, and their playing time rests not on their history with the team, but on today’s performance.

Sometimes, they end up in their desired position. Other years they find themselves riding the bench. But either way, they have to fight and scrap and earn their way into a new group.

I used to tell this to my cadets in a college Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program. As a leader who arrives to a new unit, no one cares about what you did yesterday, or in college, or that one time long ago. They only care about what you’re doing today. Your resume does not follow you, and you’re not entitled to anything.

Sports Entitlement

You see a lot of bad examples in professional sports. NFL athletes hold out in preseason. Tennis players pitch a fit over a call. NBA players ask to be traded because they don’t get enough playing time.

A good leader shows up every day and doesn’t rely on what they did, but what they’re going to do.

You also see a lot of good examples in sports. The best athletes have short term memories. They possess an uncanny ability to forget the last play, good or bad, and focus on the next task at hand. Professional team sports players know they can be pulled at any time for having a bad day. They have to perform now.

Kevin Eastman, former Los Angeles Clippers vice president of basketball operations said, “Entitlement never wins championships. Investment wins championships.”

Earn This

I try to teach this to my kids. They have no right to start on any team they join. They have to invest in training over the offseason and show up at tryouts ready to perform.

I also try to model this for my kids. I too have joined five different military teams in five years. Now, I have a hefty advantage over my kids because the military provides me rank, authority, and position. Yet I never take that for granted. I too have to prepare myself for the assignment, earn trust, and work relentlessly every day on behalf of the great men and women I’m assigned to lead.

It would be easy to take a key leadership position and assume we’re owed something. The reality is leaders are entitled to nothing and have to continuously earn everything.

Read, think about, discuss, and practice leadership! Subscribe in the link above to receive a free, weekly email with no ads to a new leadership concept every Tuesday. If you want to lead well, you have to earn it.  Keep leading!

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