Entitled or Engaged

A few weeks ago, author Jim Kouzes (The Leadership Challenge) was in Cincinnati, talking about the ties between effective leadership and higher levels of employee engagement.  An interesting question was posed by one of the attendees. He asked, something to the effect, if levels of engagement might be different in those who have a strong sense of entitlement. Like many good questions, this one got me pondering. What about these two factors. Can they be complementary of each other, or might entitlement limit one’s willingness to become fully engaged. What do you think?

A subject I have been researching for quite some time is the topic of complacency. There is no question in my mind that complacency is a major obstacle to the ongoing growth of any organization – or individual. Complacent people seem to fight more to keep things the way they are, because it is best for them.  They defend current ways much more than they pursue new and better ones. They build strong walls around their comfort zones, in order to prevent much change from slipping in.

And here is the rub – one of the key contributors to complacency is a strong sense of entitlement. One conclusion I draw from this is that entitled people may in fact be quite engaged – but to their own self preservation, and not necessarily the continued growth and prosperity of the organization itself, or the others in the organization. In today’s ultra-competitive, tough to survive in world, that is simply unacceptable.

One’s worth to a customer, or an organization is based on valued contribution, not tenure, current pay, or even long ago accomplishments. Fully engaged people come to work each day with hearts, minds, souls, and bodies committed to contribute in a meaningful way for a good that benefits all stakeholders, including themselves. Entitled people too often spend time simply preserving the status quo, or convincing others why they (the entitled) are so valuable. At their worst they are quite self-absorbed and a deterrent to better results. At their best they usually do what is necessary, provided it remains comfortable.

In nearly 30 years of leadership development work, I do not believe I have ever heard a committed and productive leader use the world comfortable to describe the environment, in which s/he works. That explains to some degree the problem with complacency.

Most of the research I have read indicates that, all else equal, workforces that have higher levels of engagement tend to produce more than those which are less engaged. I have never seen any kind of study that says highly entitled workforces out produce highly engaged workforces.

Perhaps the dilemma of entitled or engaged comes down to the question, “to what is the entitled individual truly committed?” If it is for his or her own comfort or ego, and not the continued vibrancy and success of the organization, I would say entitlement works against building the kind of organizational engagement needed to succeed over time. And if your workforce is comprised of too many who are complacent or entitled, and you are competing against others whose workforces are skilled, upbeat and fully in the game, you are in for a tough time.

The leadership challenge is to continue to drive out complacency and inspire people to become fully invested in the work and possibilities. And this will be harder for those who believe they are entitled, in some fashion, to be different from the rest or to contribute in less productive ways.

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