Friday, June 5, 2009

Entitlement vs. Responsibility

I hear a lot these days about the so called millennial generation, young people born between 1980 and 2000. In our workplaces, that would be the folks under 30. There are a lot of people out there claiming expertise on how to market to and manage millennials. The assumption is that this group is fundamentally and even radically different than everyone else. In my professional opinion, the hype far exceeds the scientific evidence, but that’s nothing new.

Entitled is one of the most common terms I hear used to describe these young folks. To be honest, I’ve used it myself to describe an attitude I see amongst my students. A fair number of them want all of the rewards but as little as possible of the accountability for effort and performance that comes with the rewards.

But I’m not sure there is much new under the sun here. I’m sure I had a pretty similar attitude when I was 22, which is one reason why I flunked out of Oklahoma State University the first time around. And is anyone familiar with the parable of the Prodigal Son?

And in all fairness, I continue to meet some of the most brilliant, impressive, and inspiring young people I have ever met in my life. It is an honor to spend time with them and to have the opportunity to shape their thinking on things that really matter (e.g. leadership).

I like to contrast the rhetoric of entitlement with the rhetoric of responsibility.

Entitlement comes from an attitude of “don’t you know who I am?” It is inherently egocentric because it begins by making sure that others know who you are and what you are entitled to. Once others recognize who you are, then you are free to “name and claim” your proper privileges and rewards.

The rhetoric of entitlement sounds like this: “I am an adult, so you need to treat me like one.” Some of the implicit ideas that follow are “I can do what I want to do,” “You need to do what I want you to do,” "You need to engage me," and “I’m the boss, you are not.”

In contrast, responsibility begins with the assumption that “you will know who I am when you see what I do.” It begins and ends with a drive to do the right thing and has little concern for title or status. It is inherently purposeful rather than egocentric.

The rhetoric of responsibility sounds like this: “I will do what needs to be done because it is the right thing to do.” The implicit ideas that follows are “judge me on the merits of my behavior,” and "I will engage with you."

When you behave consistent with the rhetoric of responsibility, people come to the correct conclusions:

You are an adult.

You are a leader.

Don't tell me who you are and what you think you deserve - show me.

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