Warren Bennis in his classic book, Why Leaders Can’t Lead: The Unconscious Conspiracy Continues, discussed the forces that impact leaders and diminished their ability to lead. Bennis knew that the environment in which a leader operates impacts his or her ability to lead. A great leader in one setting may be totally ineffective in a different setting. Many of us have found that true in our own careers,

As Bennis considered the inability of leaders to lead, he saw multiple causes for this phenomenon. One set of those causes was a series of trends occurring in society. While he did go into depth around these societal trends in his book, he realized that collectively they would have a disruptive impact on leadership; he referred to them as ominous societal trends. It should be pointed out that the interaction between multiple societal trends creates a web of influence that “in toto”, diminishes the leader’s capability to lead. Each trend, taken as a single issue, may not see significant or even noteworthy. In fact some will even disagree that the issue discussed is a problem. However, the combination and interplay between these forces, some subtle and some not, is what is lethal to leadership.

The first article in this series dealt with the Dunning-Kruger effect on leadership and the second article addressed the demise of talent. This article addresses a third societal trend that inhibits leadership – entitlement.

“No one looks the way I do.
I have noticed that it’s true.
No one walks the way I walk.
No one talks the way I talk.
No one plays the way I play.
No one says the things I say.
I am special.
I am me.
Gen Y – people born between 1978 and 1997 – grew up singing that nursery song. Today many parents and psychologists wonder if songs like that were not big mistakes.
In the 1980s world of child rearing, the catchword was “self-esteem.” Unconditional love and being valued “just because you’re you!” was the prevailing philosophy. In practice, it involved constantly praising children, not criticizing them under any circumstances, emphasizing feelings, and not recognizing one child’s achievements as superior to another’s. At the end of a season, every player “won” a trophy. Instead of just one “student of the month,” schools named dozens. Teachers inflated grades from kindergarten through college: “C” became the new “F.” No one ever had to repeat a grade because staying behind caused poor self-esteem.
The result of these child-rearing practices has been a measurable increase in narcissism and a generation that has a deeply embedded sense of entitlement, according to authorities like Dr. Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. Between 1982 and 2006 Dr. Twenge studied more than 16,400 students who took the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. In 1982, only a third of the students scored above average on the test. Today that number is over 65%.” http://aspeneducation.crchealth.com/articles/article-entitlement/

“Children in the most recent generation of adults born between 1982 and 1995, known as “Generation Y,” were raised to believe that it is their right to have everything given to them more than any other previous generation. Between 1979 and 1984, the Public Relations Society of America conducted a series of surveys on the American public to determine whether or not there was a growing trend of entitlement being spread throughout popular opinion. The results showed that indeed a trend had sprouted within society that more and more citizens were beginning to expect institutions to provide for them rather than providing for themselves.” http://www.studentpulse.com/articles/362/you-owe-me-examining-a-generation-of-entitlemen

Entitlement And Honesty?

We live in a society of positive reinforcement. Everyone is to be commended for his or her efforts. Trying is just as important as achievement. Our children’s rooms are filled with trophies awarded for participation and attendance; failure is to be avoided at all costs. In fact parents step in to make everything “right” when children don’t receive that positive attention and feedback.

This attitude is spreading throughout society. We watch as college students demand of their university leadership that they not be exposed to anything that they do not want to hear.

A new survey of American teenagers finds that academic dishonesty is rampant and getting worse.

A whopping 64 percent of high school students surveyed by the Center for Youth Ethics at the Josephson Institute in Los Angeles said they had cheated on a test at least once in the past year, up from 60 percent in 2004.
Thirty-eight percent said they had cheated two or more times, while another 36 percent said they had used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment, up from 33 percent two years ago.
Cheating on homework is also widespread; 82 percent said they had copied another student’s work at least once in the past year.
Among the most troubling findings is that students who engage in dishonest acts still hold a positive view of themselves. For example, 93 percent of the respondents said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77 percent said, “When it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.” It’s not clear how the behavior of public figures, including company executives involved in the financial crisis, has shaped students’ cavalier attitudes. Asked if they agreed with the statement “In the real world, successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating,” 59 percent answered in the affirmative.
http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/on-education/2008/12/02/cheating-on-the-rise-among-high-school-students

According to reports in the Harvard Crimson, more than 100 students in an undergraduate lecture class are alleged to have lifted material from shared study guides on a final take-home exam. http://ideas.time.com/2012/09/04/harvard-cheating-scandal-is-academic-dishonesty-on-the-rise/

Consider a study done by Ben-Gurion University and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“Winning a competition makes people more likely to behave dishonestly at a later time.
In five studies, researchers found that winning a competition increased the winners’ likelihood of stealing money from their counterparts in a subsequent unrelated task. The findings indicate that success is multifaceted: Dishonesty increased when winning was due to performing better than others, but not when success was determined by chance or in reference to a personal or set goal. Researchers say a possible cause is an enhanced sense of entitlement among competition winners.

Leadership Lesson:
Business is responding in predictable ways. They attempt to roll with the tide.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, corporations like Lands End and Bank of America are hiring “praise teams” to keep up with Gen Y’s demand for constant positive reinforcement. Other generations believed that as long as no one fired them, their work must be okay. Gen Y needs constant praise in the form of emails, awards, celebration balloons and other such tangible recognition of their work or they become anxious. http://aspeneducation.crchealth.com/articles/article-entitlement/

We see leadership become wary of communicating anything that might be construed as negative.

A Harris Poll survey with 2,058 U.S. adults — 1,120 of them were employed, and 616 of the employed people were managers — showed that a stunning majority (69%) of the managers said that they’re often uncomfortable communicating with employees. Over a third (37%) of the managers said that they’re uncomfortable having to give direct feedback about their employees’ performance if they think the employee might respond negatively to the feedback. http://www.interactauthentically.com/new-interact-report-many-leaders-shrink-from-straight-talk-with-employees/.

As a result, we see organizations doing away with performance evaluations. God forbid, employees should be exposed to anything negative!

What is the implication that worried Warren Bennis? The workplace is decreasingly about quality work and increasingly about ensuring employees are happy and have their needs met. Leaders do not lead, they are increasingly forced to play the role of a nanny!

“A global survey of employees released by Right Management, finds only 10 percent of employees define career success as high performance and productivity. At the same time 45 percent of survey respondents rank work/life balance as their number one career aspiration, and the top definition of workplace success is enjoyment/happiness.
http://www.right.com/wps/wcm/connect/right-us-en/home/thoughtwire/categories/media-center/Only-1-in-10-Employees-Define-Success-at-Work-as-High-Performance

The problem with societal trends is that this is not a “flash in pan, it will go away” phenomenon. Societal trends have a way of sticking. If this is the case, what is the future of leadership when the next generation of leader has been steeped in the cult of excessive optimism?

According to Ernst & Young, 68% of millennial managers are widely perceived as entitled. Those who are in this category score significantly lower as team players and 60% are perceived as “concerned primarily about individual promotion”. As millennials move into management, entitled workers, those who feel they are owed things from their organization and that their excellence is a given, are less likely to lead teams effectively and advocate for subordinates.

According to Deloitte, only 36% of millennials said they felt ready for a leadership position. 30% said they were not ready to deal with difficult people or situations (and therefore not prepared to give any non-positive feedback!) Yet millennials say they value an open, transparent, inclusive leadership style that includes open and honest feedback.

Warren Bennis was correct. There are clouds of ominous societal trends that have moved from the horizon to directly overhead.

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