The most challenging thing about building something for someone else is the sense of entitlement that grows with every brick we add. This sense of entitlement is a boss’ worst nightmare. Partially because it rarely leads to a good outcome and partially because it is inevitable. Any experienced boss knows their sole goal is to get the most out of a employee before this feeling of entitlement is blown up so large that they are forced to pull out the pin.
Entitlement is simply another law of man’s greed. In the pursuit of accumulating more and more, bosses push back the goal posts over and over. The distance they move the goal posts back is almost always directly proportional to a employee’s performance. The greater employees perform, the higher the expectations bosses set for them.
In a team setting, raised expectations eventually lead to the dissolution of the pack. What was once a team sport becomes an individual pursuit. And so begins the sprint. Some workers run ahead whilst others drop back. Before long the stragglers give up on the race altogether. They tire and slow. Not to attribute blame to themselves, they justify their shortcomings by reframing the rules of the game. Some take to the sidelines, making sport out of the social elements of being a spectator, while others give up on the game altogether and begin the search for new teams and new sports.
Others, spurred by competition, run on. As the game unfolds and the frontrunners make more and more distance on the majority, a pack begins to assemble in the centre. Here in the middle, mob mentality sets in. Majority rules right? Together the majority make an unspoken agreement to override the boss’ goals. Each justifies a slowing of their own speed through a slowing of the entire group. They neither give up nor compete, together they simply reset their speed to a steady jog.
Meanwhile the frontrunners, each attempting to outdo the other, push themselves harder and harder. And yet the faster they go, the further the goal posts are shifted.
As the game runs on, a leader eventually emerges and begins to gain ground on the head of the pack. Giving up on the belief that they can win, those behind the leader begin to drop off one by one, joining the majority in a steady trot.
Eventually the leader recognises that they are the only one left competing. To justify their feeling of isolation, they reframe the goal of the game to be a competition between them and themselves. This is where the sense of entitlement begins to grow.
The more they achieve, the greater their sense of entitled becomes. Eventually, however, the leader’s sense of entitlement grows so large that the boss is forced to step in and remind them that this competition was never theirs to own. They are but a Queen whose role it is to protect the King. And in a second, the balloon is popped.
At that moment two things can happen. The first is that the leader accepts the new terms, slows and rejoins the pack. The boss generally steps in and stops the entire group, allowing the leader to drop back and the stragglers to catch up. The rules are reset and game begins again. This time however, the leader leads from the middle, encouraging the majority to jog from the outset.
The second scenario is that after the boss intervenes and explains to the leader that the game is not theirs, the leader sprints on, past the goal posts, past the sidelines, past the car park and out onto the field across the street. Here they start their own thing.
The reality is, this idea of entitlement will always exist in business. The faster a business grows, the faster this sense of entitlement spurns. The problem is that most bosses don’t see the root cause of entitlement. They throw money at the problem to keep workers around when the actual solution is to harness entitlement by fostering projects. Breaking a workplace down into a series of games where leaders can develop their own rules allows peak performers to take ownership over select elements of the business. The problem is that most bosses develop this in theory, but then show up to practice. They watch from the sidelines and chip in two cents here and two cents there, and eventually it becomes clear to the leader that they aren’t in fact the leader.
The solution for a boss is to be extremely diligent at developing the games to begin with. They must sit down and take the time to really nut out the field. How many games will there be? How do the games work? Who are the captains? What positions will the other team members play and what are their responsibilities? How long is a season?
Nobody enjoys a sport where the rules change mid play. And yet almost all businesses work in this fashion. This is not to say, a boss must give away all power, removing the ability for the business to pivot and change. Rather, it is to say that every game has a season that should be played out regardless of how well the team is fairing. Considering 90% of bosses don’t understand this, it is no suprise that 90% of businesses fail.