Leaderonomics: Are you an entitled leader? - Michelle Gibbings

Traits of an entitled leader and what to look out for. Thanks to Leaderonomics for the opportunity for Michelle to share her thoughts. 

We often hear stories about celebrities and their ridiculous demands. Whether it’s $900 titanium drinking straws, specific types of candles and flowers, rooms painted in certain colours or unusual food requests.

Whether some of these requests are true or not, they make good fodder for the tabloids.

We can see examples of entitlement across society. It’s a person expecting to be served before others, get preferential treatment, or always be given the best of everything and go first. Psychological entitlement is viewed as a subset of narcissism in the psychology literature.

Being psychologically entitled reduces your ability to feel grateful. Why would you feel grateful if you think what you are receiving is something you are owed or deserve?

This week, I am focusing on leaders who are entitled. Next week’s message will look at entitled employees and team members. Yes, the trait can operate at all levels of hierarchy and roles.

What does an entitled leader look like in practice?

Typically, they are self-serving. Everything the leader does is about them. They think their needs outweigh those of others. They make decisions through the lens of ‘what does this mean for me?’. They expect always to go first, and while they may expect their team to make sacrifices, they never would.

Not surprisingly, such characteristics negatively impact team dynamics, organisational culture and decision-making.

Professor David De Cremer and colleagues suggest that the practice of assigning roles such as ‘leader’ can impact a person’s willingness to engage unethically and promote self-serving behaviours.

Their research found that leadership “…may easily invite self-serving and unethical behaviours: it seems to be the case that the role of leader (or even the label in itself) evokes particular expectations of entitlement, which cause leaders to deviate from normative and ethical behaviours—such as following an equal division rule in resource-sharing tasks”.

Their findings suggest that leaders may not even recognise their behaviour as selfish or unethical. A lack of self-awareness is so often at the crux of issues and missteps. So, how do you spot if you are acting in an entitled manner?

There are a couple of elements to consider. Previously, in the article “How to know if you are drunk on power” I wrote about the criticality of being willing to challenge yourself and be challenged by others. Adding to that, you want to ask yourself a series of questions. Psychological entitlement is assessed by researchers and academics using nine questions. They are:

  1. I honestly feel I’m just more deserving than others
  2. Great things should come to me
  3. If I were on the Titanic, I would deserve to be on the first lifeboat!
  4. I demand the best because I’m worth it
  5. I deserve special treatment
  6. I deserve more things in my life
  7. People like me deserve an extra break now and then
  8. Things should go my way
  9. I feel entitled to more of everything

Take a moment to consider how you would rate yourself against those questions. Be brutally honest with yourself. If you have an inkling or hunch that you are a ‘yes’ then it’s likely that’s how other people will rate you too. If you are up for even more insights, ask your team member or colleagues their perspectives. Seeing the gap between how you rate yourself and how others rate you can be hard to digest, but it’s incredibly insightful.

If you (or your team/colleagues) answered in the affirmative to these questions, you have some work to do. Being an entitled leader is a derailer, which can hold you back.

Take time to ponder how this plays out in the work environment and the impact it is having on relationships, your reputation, team and outcomes. Get clear on your impact and why you do what you do. Next, consider what you want to do about it.

This work isn’t easy to do as much of it will be based on ingrained patterns of feeling, thinking and doing. The key is to want to change and to start the work.

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