In the workplace and elsewhere, those in leadership a position should be thinking about self-respect—both their own and that of others. When everyone maintains a healthy level of self-respect, people are confident in their work. They take risks and innovate. They admit their mistakes. Trust levels tend to be high, and communication and collaboration are smooth.
But self-respect has an evil twin: a sense of entitlement, which often looks like self-respect taken to its furthest extreme. As I speak to groups and travel between engagements, I hear a lot about these people and the harm they do in the workplace. They understand the rules but insist that they should be exempt. They push their way into every conversation, are slow to share credit, and make looking out for themselves—even at the expense of others—a top priority. They may consider themselves special because they’re older, or younger, or have a graduate degree, or came from a higher-status background. But for whatever reason, they’re focused entirely on their own success and have no desire to play by other people’s rules.
Few things are more damaging to a team’s morale or productivity than a sense of entitlement in even a single employee. So how do you feed your team’s self-respect while starving any tendencies to entitlement? There are steps you can take to keep your people on the right side of the line:
Maintain a culture of scrupulous transparency and equity.
A system free of loopholes and inconsistency doesn’t give entitlement much room to operate. If the criteria for promotions are clear and well known, for example, there’s no grounds for an entitled person to try to be promoted out of turn.
Foster unity and collaboration.
Egotists don’t tend to fare well in collaborative settings where achievement is credited to the group and not focused on the role of specific individuals.
Build a true meritocracy.
Don’t reward a flashy performance or a prominent position at the expense of long-term steady effort. Often it’s the quietest people who are getting the most done.
Don’t focus on blame when things go wrong.
Blaming others is central to the entitled mindset, and a positive approach that focuses on fixing the problem and preventing a recurrence undermines that aspect.
Insist that tedious chores are distributed fairly.
Most organizations have a set of tasks that are important but boring—the kind of thing that has to get done but that nobody wants to do. Be intentional about how these tasks are assigned, maybe through a rotating schedule, to make sure everybody does their share.
These steps are like entitlement repellent—they make your organization less attractive to people with an entitlement mindset, because their usual methods of operation aren’t effective. And the flip side of that benefit is just as good: By emphasizing principles of equity and collaboration, you build a stronger workplace all around.