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The Horror of an "Entitlement Attitude"

By Dr. Alan Zimmerman

It was Friday, January 20, 1961, and President John F. Kennedy spoke some of the greatest words ever spoken by any President ... or any human being ... for that matter.  He said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

If only we had listened, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in today.  We would have more productive organizations and healthier families instead of all the greed and dysfunction we see today.

Unfortunately, Kennedy would probably roll over in his grave if he saw how an "attitude of entitlement" has swept over so many people.  He would see scores of people who no longer ask what they can do for others; they simply demand others give them what they want.

In a nutshell, this "attitude of entitlement" leads to destruction with a capital D.  It destroys success, progress, teamwork, self-esteem, self-respect, initiative, motivation, and relationships.  It serves no useful purpose.

So what can you do if you're surrounded by people who feel "entitled?"  After all, you've got to do something ... because you'll never have a good organization or a good family if the people in those groups feel "entitled."

1.  Recognize entitlement.
Look for it.  Call it out.  Call a spade a spade.  Don't sugar coat it.  And don't gloss it over with political correctness.  You can't turn an "attitude of entitlement" around if you don't even notice it. Of course, an "attitude of entitlement" comes out in a variety of ways, including the following:

**The feeling that other people, the company, the government, or life itself "OWES" me. (For example, just about everyone thinks the huge deficit is insanely dangerous, but very few are willing to see "their" pet project cut back.)
**The idea that because I exist YOU have to give me what I want. (Remember all the executives who took exorbitant salaries while their companies tanked?)
**Behaviors that are all about getting or taking instead of giving or sacrificing. (Perhaps you noticed the millions of people on TV demanding their "rights" but never talking about their "responsibilities.")
**The question of "What have you done for me lately?" (How many times have you read the news story of parents leaving their kids home alone ... so they could go on a romantic get-away with a new boyfriend or girlfriend?)
**The belief that because you hired me you are responsible for my career path. (Whatever happened to the deeply held belief "If it is to be, it is up to me?")
**The myth that life should be easy and I should be taken care of, instead of having to work for it. (That's the first things most parents try to teach their kids ... to stand on their own two feet.)
**The lie that whatever anyone else has I should have, or it isn't fair. (It's the second thing wise parents teach their kids ..that life isn't fair.  So get over it.)
**The lethal attitude that "If you have it and I want it, I can take it." (Did you catch the news about kids killing kids to get their Nike shoes and school letter jackets?).

Once you recognize this nasty, dangerous, destructive, counter-productive "attitude of entitlement" at work or at home, then your second step is to ...

2. Stop nourishing entitlement.
In other words, be very careful of doing anything for people they can and should be doing for themselves.  It's one of the secrets of every highly effective leader, manager, teacher, coach and parent.  They refuse to treat people like children who need to be coddled or taken care of.

Vince Lombardi, the legendary football coach, preached that very philosophy.  He said, "Football is like life; it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority."  He didn't say football was like a nursery where he would make life easy and comfortable for his players.  He knew that would turn them into losers instead of winners.

Of course, most people don't consciously nourish entitlement.  Most people don't try to turn other people into unmotivated individuals who don't know the first thing about being a self-sufficient self-starter.  But a lot of parents do exactly that when they say/do such things as the following.

**"Here, let me do that for you."
**"I want you to have everything I never had."
**"I will lay out your clothes, so you look just right."
**"I will make sure that you never experience anything unpleasant."
**"I will drop you off and pick you up, so you won't have to wait."
**"I will make sure that you are not bored."
**"If you have difficulty with others, I will intervene so you feel good."
**"I will confront that teacher who dares to correct you."
**"I will make sure you don't struggle with anything."
**"I will make sure you don't experience disappointment."
**"I am your servant. So I'll continuously ask you, 'What do you want to eat?'".

These days ... life coaches and career coaches have become very popular and very helpful.  But no reputable coach would ever nourish or allow their clients the luxury of having an "attitude of entitlement."  No coach would ever say to his client, "There, there now.  You don't have to think.  You don't have to make any decisions.  You don't have to do anything.  I'll do it all for you."  It would be malpractice of the highest order.

So please, stop yourself when you're tempted to do things for someone that he can and should do for himself.  It destroys his present dignity as well as his future success.  As Franklin Roosevelt so wisely observed, "Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort" ... not in doing it for him.

Or as the ancient scribe told us, teach a man to fish rather than give him a fish.  The former activity empowers the other person.  The latter activity cripples the other person with an "attitude of entitlement."

3.  Encourage others to become more than they are.
It's a sure way to break through the "poor-me" entitlement attitude.  And everyone has some gifts and talents they are not using, and everyone has room for improvement.  There are no perfect folks among us.

Take heed of Sidney A. Friedman's advice, an author and entrepreneur.  He says, "You can achieve anything you want in life if you have the courage to dream it, the intelligence to make a realistic plan, and the will to see that plan through to the end."

Of course it may not be easy ... to dream, plan, and follow through.  That's not the point.  The point is ... it's possible.  As one New Zealander put it, "You must be true to yourself.  Strong enough to be true to yourself.  Brave enough to be strong enough to be true to yourself.  Wise enough to be brave enough, to be strong enough to shape yourself from what you actually are."

Notice, in the process of encouraging people to become more than they are, it has nothing to do with taking things away from others. Abraham Lincoln warned us of that danger 150 years ago.  He said:
"You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
"You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
"You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
"You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling the wage payer down.
"You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
"You cannot build character and courage by taking away men's initiative and independence.
"You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves."

Once you encourage others to become more than they are...

4.  Help them to focus on what they can do for others.
You see, entitlement is all about me, me, me.  It's petty, selfish, and self-serving.  But when people start to look outside themselves and focus on the positive difference they can make, almost everything changes for the better.

Take Helen Keller, for example, the blind, deaf author and lecturer.  She said, "Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose."

Mark J. Jewell, a Product Specialist from Feed Management Systems, told me how that changed his father's life.  As he wrote, "Recently, my Dad went on a ten-day mission trip to Swaziland, a small country within South Africa.  The goal of this trip was to plant gardens in the poverty stricken areas, giving people hope that they could learn to help themselves.  Operating on 3 to 4 hours of sleep each night, my Dad planted his heart out for these people."

"At one point during the trip, the group of 350 missionaries held a banquet to celebrate the work.  Dad was asked to say a few words to the crowd.  Emotionally caught up in the entirety of the trip, he asked a lady to speak in his place and share his feelings.  He asked her to say, 'The people here cannot begin to fathom how rich we are in America.  The people in America could not begin to grasp how little the Swazi people have.  However, it is in fact the people of Swaziland that are rich.  They consider themselves blessed when they have their faith, family, and perhaps a little something to eat at night.'"

As Mark told me, "I truly believe that we cause ourselves so much unnecessary worry by getting so caught up in our materialistic greed." But real joy comes when a person quits focusing on what he can get for himself and starts focusing on what he can give to others.

You see ... it's one thing to be kind and helpful ... to give people a helping hand when they need it ... to be there for them when one of life's unexpected crises occurs.  It's quite another thing to treat them as children who are incapable of doing anything or improving anything in their lives.  Do the former, and you will be respected.  Do the latter and you will be disrespectful.

Action:
When you find yourself about to do something for somebody else that they can and should do for them self, stop and think.  Will this truly be helpful to the other person in the long run? .


As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman has taught more than one million people in 48 states and 22 countries how to keep a positive attitude on and off the job. In his book, PIVOT: How One Turn In Attitude Can Lead To Success, Dr. Zimmerman outlines the exact steps you must take to get the results you want in any situation. Go to Alan's site for a Free Sneak Preview


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