The Entitlement Snare: How Entitled Attitudes Develop (Part A)

Wendy Sage-Hayward
Wendy Sage-Hayward

Entitlement is one of those sticky and sensitive issues in family business. Entitlement is a difficult subject to raise because it creates defensive (and offensive) behaviors in family members. When most families start talking about entitlement (if they talk about it at all) it feels like a blaming game: “I wish my daughter would be financially responsible and stop relying on us to pay her bills”, or “my son has no work ethic”, or “my brother acts like he can show up for work any time he likes”.

Entitlement, as defined here, means the belief that one deserves or is at liberty to access certain privileges that others are not based on arbitrary factors such as family lineage. In other words it is an unrealistic or unjustified sense of deserving some type of benefit. Those who are labeled as “entitled” in a family business are a target for criticism, and judgment and even resentment, even if only behind closed doors. The entitled are considered fully to blame for their entitled behaviors, attitudes and transgressions. Too often there is a great deal of energy consumed by strategizing on how to work around these folks and address the issues they create.

However, entitlement is a two-way street in that liberties may be taken by the entitled but those privileges were likely bestowed on to the entitled by parents or other family members at some point, either intentionally or unintentionally. In addition, when unwarranted liberties are taken, too often there is no or inadequate consequence within a family firm.

The development of entitlement is a complex and layered process. Sometimes clear rules or boundaries are not clearly articulated because it is assumed that children, siblings, or cousins should know the rules.  Sometimes family members do not hold their ground when boundaries are pushed or challenged which children and certain personalities are prone to do. Sometimes too much is given to the next generation without requiring of them an offsetting contribution. Sometimes parents worry too much and take accountability for things the next generation should be accountable for.

As a family and a family business, one place to start is to stop blaming those who are considered entitled and recognize our role in the development of the entitlement snare.

Part B: The Entitlement Snare: Exploring Our Boundaries coming later this week.

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