“This is a great, great country that had gotten a little soft and…we didn’t have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades. We need to get back on track.”
~ President Barack Obama
Has America gotten soft? Lost its edge? Wandered off track?
In many ways, society has indeed gotten soft. As younger generations of Americans, we have grown up accustomed to affluence and expectant of instant rewards for our efforts. As such, we tend to be wasteful, irresponsible, and undisciplined. Yet, in another respect, we have gotten hard and uncaring. Those of us with money insist on having deservedly obtained our wealth through individual merit, and many of us ungenerously spend our surplus earnings on ourselves.
Today’s troubles are rooted in a two-pronged culture of entitlement. In the midst of scarcity, we feel entitled to a better life, and when blessed with abundance, we feel entitled to our standard of living. Both sides of the coin show the same picture of entitlement.
Certainly, painting with such a broad brushstroke ignores the all-too-real struggles of hard-working American who nonetheless are suffering economic misfortune. Also, such sweeping generalizations overlook the munificence of the many Americans who freely give away large chunks of their income. Yet, on the whole, I believe the accusation of entitlement carries more than just a kernel of truth.
As leaders, how do we go about curbing our entitlement culture? For starters, let’s set an example ourselves.
Guilt: Admit It
If you’re financially upside-down, relationally isolated, or physically unfit, chances are someone else isn’t entirely to blame. Consider the main problem you’re facing in life and write down two ways your present behaviors are at least partially responsible for your predicament. How can you make changes to improve your situation?
Giving: Prioritize It
In April, USA TODAY reported that median CEO earnings had climbed 27% in 2010 compared with a slight 2.1% increase in compensation for the average worker in the private industry. What if influencers, instead of insisting on the privileges of leadership, scaled back their salaries or shared their wealth? Over the next month, eat in instead of dining out once per week. Anonymously donate the money you save to a friend in need or to a local charity.
Gratitude: Express it.
There’s no denying the sweat and tears that go into attaining success. There’s also no denying that no one gets to the top alone. Contact someone who has helped you to reach your present career position and thank them. Genuine words of gratefulness never fail to have an impact—both on the one who speaks them and the one who hears them.
Perhaps it’s time we quit looking for political saviors to get us out of the present financial mess. Government is not just for the people, but also of the people and by the people. As a leader, chip away at the entitlement culture by setting an example of responsibility, generosity, and gratitude within your sphere of influence.