Battle Entitlement

Over the last two weeks we have looked at embrace constraints and turning stumbling blocks into stepping stones.

Today we are going to look at the fourth personal transformer: the ability to battle entitlements.

When we welcome constraint as friend, not foe, we keep our energy in reserve for the battle against entitlement, the true enemy of growth.

Entitlement – the idea that you deserve or are owed something or are in some way privileged or superior – can be a ‘transformation killer’.

Entitlement manifests itself in several ways. It is likely to be a psychological crutch, at least to a small degree, in all of us. Believe me, I see it in myself all the time, even though I recognize that my sense of entitlement can and does slow movement along the curve toward the competent, capable person I yearn to be. As we move into the growth phase of our transformational learning curve and gain more confidence, entitlement is a risk we all face.

With cultural entitlement, we have such a strong sense of belonging with our peer group or clique, and such a powerful sense of its capabilities that we may tend to think poorly of those outside the group and ignore or even be unaware of their ideas. And if our plans seem to be working out well, we don’t feel the need to look beyond our own social and geographical borders for other people’s ideas. We believe that success comes naturally from within and always will. Instead we should make a sustained effort to experience other cultures – in the broadest sense of the word – by networking outside our usual realm either professionally or even geographically.

This forces us to open our mind to new ideas and possibilities. That’s why, for instance, Janssen, the pharmaceuticals arm of Johnson & Johnson, operates a program it calls Immersion, under which employees are sent to other countries to experience and identify problems to solve. The idea came about when two employees realized that most of their colleagues had never set foot in the emerging markets they were trying to serve. Under Immersion, employees are tasked with identifying specific problems in specific locations, like hepatitis C in Romania or aging in Poland and investigating how to improve healthcare in those countries.

Even within our peer group, we may experience a sense of superiority that shuts our minds to the ideas of others. This is referred to as intellectual entitlement, which manifests in the human tendency to seek only evidence that confirms the strength of our ideas and to ignore anything that challenges them.

IDEO, the world’s leading design thinking firm have a unique way of alleviating this by implementing a program called ‘reverse mentoring’. According to Liz Wiseman, author of Rookie Smarts, “inexperienced people, whether recent university graduates or experienced professionals coming from other organisations or functions, are surprisingly strong performers. Because they have significant knowledge gaps, they are more alert, move fast, and work smart.”

If you find yourself annoyed or dismissive of another person’s ideas, then intellectual entitlement is your hang-up and you need to make a practice of listening to dissenting voices, acknowledging you have much to learn on the transformation S-curve.

Finally, emotional entitlement is the act of protecting our egos and the feeling that we didn’t get opportunities we were entitled to when things didn’t go our way. We feel we’ve been treated unfairly. This will not help you in your quest for transformation. It’s better, to focus on those things for which we should feel grateful, to keep ourselves in a positive state of mind and understand that we, not others, are the architects of our own destiny.

When we are bitter about unfulfilled dreams, harboring a grudge about not getting the life we wanted or even deserved, aren’t we letting venom move through our system? Being grateful for the dreams that have (and have not) come true is an antidote to emotional entitlement. When dreams don’t work, we can be mad, or sad, or both, for a time, but then we must choose. Said the beloved author Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol, “Reflect upon your blessings – of which every man has many – not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

As we begin to see the fruits of taking the right risks, playing to our strengths, and embracing our constraints, we can start believing this is the way it should and will always be. It’s easy to become dulled to danger when everything is working.

Most of us are brimming with the confidence, even competence to change the world. It is vital that we are also equipped with the humility to understand that changing the world and keeping transformation alive requires that we change ourselves. Lets not risk losing a lofty dream because we think we deserve it.

To get a deeper understanding of how these capabilities play out your team, read more at Battle Entitlement

Entitlement is the sneaky saboteur of an S curve climb. It comes in many guises. Like when things aren’t fair. And at some point, they aren’t. On the merits, we deserved a promotion, a raise, or credit for a good idea, and didn’t get it. So we decide the universe is in our debt. Self-absorbed, we backslide.

Then there’s the flip side of this: his privileged position should always be our lot. As we give the right people, on the right part of their curve, hard problems to solve, our teams will hum with creative energy. It’s human nature to start believing this is the way things will and should always be. I’ve built this team. I deserve a fiefdom. Now worried that the loss of a star performer will dim our prospects, we become talent hoarders.

As you lead your team up their learning curve, contending with your own sense of entitlement – also watch out for theirs. More skills will equal more confidence. But they still aren’t masters. The word ‘sophomore’ comes from the conjunction of two Greek words, wisdom and foolishness; a sophomore is literally a ‘wise fool’. And that’s where your employees are as they start to climb out of the low-end of the learning curve: They know a little, but they don’t know enough.

Fearing an increased sense of entitlement, managers sometimes dial back on the praise. Instead, turn the volume up. Consultants Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman reviewed some ten thousand 360-degree assessments and found that the best managers give a mix of praise and criticism. Sounds obvious – expect that the people who saw themselves as great managers (but were not seen that way by their managers) tended to give mostly criticism.

Our employees are desperate for praise. And we rarely give it, in part because genuine praise is hard to give. Gretchen Rubin helps explain why. She wrote The Happiness Project, a book based on her yearlong initiative to be happier, inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s self-improvement efforts. As she set out on this journey, Rubin set the goal to ‘give positive reviews’. “People who are critical are often perceived to be more discerning.” Rubin writes. Various studies conclude “…that people tend to think that someone who criticizes them is smarter than they are. Although enthusiasm seems easy and undiscriminating, in fact, it’s much harder to embrace something than to disdain it. It’s riskier.” Rubin suggests, “Enthusiasm is a form of social courage…Giving positive reviews requires humility…A willingness to be pleased requires modesty and even innocence…”

Smart managers will learn to be enthusiastic and encourage their team members without entitling them. It is a delicate balance. Focus on praising what is within a team member’s control, such as effort expended and a willingness to play nicely with others. Be stingier in extolling the attributes that are not under the individual’s control, native talents, appearance, and the various manifestations of good fortune. These are the things that most often lead to an outsize sense of privilege.

Transformation thrives in an environment of gratitude, rather than entitlement. This may explain the high percentage of successful immigrant entrepreneurs. In 2010, more than 40% of the Fortune 500 companies included an immigrant or the child of an immigrant among its founders. It may be that coming from other places and cultures makes them less jaded or blinded by personal privilege and more appreciative of a wide-open playing field in which to make their mark. Life is not accommodating Work is not accommodating – luckily for us. A constant flow of gratification isn’t conducive to moving up the S curve. It distracts us from disturbing the universe.

In Shakespeare’s Henry V, there is a nighttime scene in the camp of the English soldiers just before their battle with the French. In disguise, King Henry wanders among the soldiers trying to gauge their morale. Because they don’t know who he is, their comments are unguarded. A conversation ensues about who bears the responsibility for what happens to the men in battle, the king or each soldier. One soldier says, “If (the King’s) cause can be wrong, our obedience to the king wipes the crime of it out of us.” Not surprisingly, King Henry, still in disguise responds, “Every subject’s duty is the king’s, but every subject’s soul is his own.” This strikes at the heart of what it means to battle entitlement. We can matter all day about being agents of transformation, but to effect real change, we need to be the subject of transformation. Change starts as an inside game.

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