The Cambridge Dictionary defines empowerment as the process of gaining freedom and power to control what happens to you.

Empowerment and duty accomplish more than entitlement ever can

It defines entitlement as a feeling that you have the right to do or have what you want, simply because of who you are. Leadership development is (or should be) about empowerment rather than entitlement, because empowerment has substance, while entitlement is ultimately hollow – no matter how emphatically the entitled person tries to convince people otherwise.

Unfortunately, a sense of entitlement is too common among leaders. I say “unfortunately” because entitlement shortchanges leadership and hinders the achievement of lasting success. Intelligent Leadership requires that each of us take a good hard look at ourselves and recognize signs of entitlement. Empowerment is a harder road to travel, but its benefits spread far. Entitlement is all about the self.

The Negative Consequences of the Entitlement Mindset

Short-term, the leader with entitled (or even narcissistic) tendencies may seem to get good results, especially when followers are uncertain or lack confidence. Entitlement can be great for uniting people around a common goal. Unfortunately, with an entitled leader, that common goal is typically glorification of the leader him- or herself.

Entitlement also tends to hinder productive collaboration. If followers are mostly there to prop up their leader’s ego, that doesn’t leave much time for productivity and progress. And while a strong sense of entitlement may unite a group of unconfident, unsure followers, followers who are confident tend to see straight through entitlement and set their sights on leaving for greener pastures.

The Positive Consequences of the Empowerment Mindset

Empowerment, on the other hand, is almost the opposite of entitlement. Empowerment is confident, but not selfish. A genuinely empowered leader wants followers to be empowered too, and that’s good for productivity and innovation.

Empowerment wants the best from and for others, not just oneself.

Empowerment is also practical in many ways. The empowered leader is typically both trusted and trusting and has no need to micromanage team members. When team members know their leader trusts their ability to get things done and get them done right, far less time is wasted. Team members develop confidence, and their good results reflect on themselves, the rest of the team, and their leader.

Developing a Mindset of Duty Rather Than Entitlement

Empowerment and duty are closely linked, whereas entitlement is divorced from the concept of duty. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having confidence in oneself. But sometimes even deservedly confident people can let entitlement creep in around the edges. And this tends to happen during times of adversity or challenge, which is precisely the wrong time for entitlement to rear its head.

In my newest book The Intelligent Leader, I lay out the seven dimensions of Intelligent Leadership. The third dimension, after “Thinking Big, Thinking Differently,” and “The Vulnerability Decision” is “Having a Mindset of Entitlement versus a Mindset of Duty.” Though I go into more detail in the book, cultivating the mindset of duty requires that a person:

  • Take stock of successes, including the people who helped them get there
  • Work on becoming both more trustworthy and more trusting
  • Take genuine pride in others, giving them credit where it is due

No matter how much we accomplish, it’s essential that we regularly remind ourselves that, as Bernard of Chartres said in the 12th century, “We are like dwarfs standing [or sitting] upon the shoulders of giants, and so able to see more and see farther than the ancients.”

The fact is, it is the hard work of earlier generations that laid the foundation for the prosperity we enjoy today. When leaders are out of touch with that foundation, they unwittingly inhibit their own and their teams’ ability to meet challenges and make real progress. “Good” leaders may be charismatic and magnetic, but the greatest leaders are the ones who dispense with entitlement and know the value of empowerment. They may forego glory right now, but ultimately, they’re the ones that history remembers.

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