Leading in an age of entitlement

If I asked you whether you have led, or worked with someone that you deem to be ‘entitled’, how many peoples names would spring to mind? As an Englishman, I come from the original land of entitlement and have experienced many people of this nature.

Recently I was supporting a senior executive manage an individual out of their organization. As we went through the process it reminded of a previous situation where an individual had failed to demonstrate what was expected of them and despite support and performance management (above and beyond what was reasonable expected) they continued to miss the mark. Yet when presented with the news, they proceeded to go on a tirade about:

  • how it was not their fault for the failure to meet expectation

  • the failing of the executive to support them

  • what they expected the business to do for them now they were ‘being let go’

  • how FairWork Australia would be informed about the unfair nature of the dismissal.

Having seen how they had been performing for months and what had been done by the line manager to support them, it was evident the fault was solely in the hands of the former employee who was now behaving like a spoilt brat.

The challenge is we now have part of the workforce where entitlement and the needs of the unaccountable are given a voice, deemed acceptable and even supported by law [see FairWork Ombudsman - if an employee decides to lodge a claim for unfair termination]. Whilst I fully believe in a fair and safe workplace, the more I see and hear about situations of this nature, the more I worry for the future of the high achievers, driven entrepreneurs, and general society. Those who take risks and dream big are susceptible to be derailed by the entitled who demand everything in exchange for little if anything. I know of a clinical student who demanded payment for hours spent completing their study to obtain Continuous Professional Development credits – a mandatory, non-paid expectation of their profession.

Arguably the cracks are now beginning to show as society battles with a pandemic that has caused a dramatic shift in the way people must manage themselves and others. The entitled continue to complain about how hard their lives are yet take no accountability for fixing it themselves and instead demand to know what others will do for them.

So how do you manage entitled individuals? Below I have defined what traits entitled individuals can display and how to manage them accordingly:

  1. The greenhorn. Stepping into the professional world, entitled greenhorns are looking to use the skills they have discovered in school or their early years, where by demanding and arguing their point they achieved desired results. New to being a entitled professional, where close leadership involves clear documented and repeated engagement, they have the ability to be shaped and reformed if their leader puts in the effort. Left unchecked though or placed in the too hard basket, they will continue to evolve and mature into 'the consummate'.

  2. The consummate. Individuals who have amassed years of entitled experience and know exactly how much they need to do to stay off performance radars. They require clear, succinct, documented leadership and should be managed as quickly as possible when they raise issues. Given breathing space they gain power and a voice, acknowledging that all it takes is one frustrated co-worker to jump on board for issues to gain traction and entitlement to spread.

  3. The power of probation. Probation provides a perfect opportunity to try before you buy, identifying whether a new worker will be the right fit for your business, both technically and culturally. Often performance outcomes trump cultural fit when deciding on new employees however, I would strongly suggest if the new starter does not fit with the culture then you let them go while the opportunity remains straight forward. You can teach someone how to perform more effectively far easier than you can alter their mindset and behaviours.

Managing entitled individuals out of the team may be time consuming [think government], unachievable [if they produce the minimum required output] or emotionally draining [you are only human]. Yet if the damage of keeping them is greater than the pain of managing them out, as a leader you must ensure you make a call that is best for the team.

Thankfully though, it is not all doom and gloom and there are those under no illusion that if you want to achieve greatness, you need to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. In 2014 I was part of a school to work program where professionals supported school leavers in preparing for job interviews and career transition. Working with a school who took in international (often orphaned) refugees, I met kids who at the age of 16 had endured war, lost entire families, been on the run and persecuted for years, learnt multiple languages to survive in their ever changing landscape, and still achieved outstanding academic scores. If only the greenhorns could hear those stories…!

So how can we as leaders ensure this age of entitlement does not consume society? Firm but fair leadership provides one answer, yet also resilience/mental health to endure and an element of (dare I say) common sense? Parents and guardians have significant role to play, although often it falls to the education system to pick up the pieces when the home environment is lacking. How do you manage the entitled?

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