Dealing with Entitlement Part II: Does My Ideal Self Match My Actual Self?
In my last post I talked about entitlement, and ended with a quick look at how family business owners can combat negative entitlement. I’d like to delve a bit deeper on the subject by talking about a concept called the ‘ideal self.’
Everyone has an idea in their head of who they think they are. This is called the ideal self. For some, their ideal self is a fairly accurate reflection of their actual self. For others, the ideal self is heavily biased. There’s a gap. The ideal self and the actual self don’t match up with one another. In cases like these, a person might view themself more positively than they actually are. Or they might create an idealized image of themself that’s so far out of reach it’s impossible to live up to.
Negative entitlement is often caused by this gap. For example, let’s say a family member working for the business believes they should have authority because they’re related to the founder. And let’s say fellow employees have a completely different opinion: that authority comes from respect earned by superior performance and that blood lineage is an insufficient reason for entitlement. It’s no surprise that the family member in question will consequently be labeled as arrogant and possibly unworthy.
On the other hand, if an individual’s perception of themselves as a hardworking and caring boss (idealized self) is highly congruent with their actions and with the perceptions of those who work for them (their actual self in the world), then there’s a greater likelihood they will exhibit positive or appropriate expressions of entitlement.
Contending with negative entitlement is not easy. The first step is ‘self assessment’: we have to better understand ourselves and the messages our parents have given us about money and entitlement. In essence, we need to get our house in order before we start to focus on the larger picture.
The next step is to look for opportunities to prevent negative entitlement and promote positive entitlement. This is about building a strong sense of self. Individuals who have a strong sense of self are:
- Better able to receive negative feedback (which helps bring the ideal- and actual-self closer together)
- Less likely to be defensive or overly emotional
- Better able to deal with conflict
- More likely to exhibit self-confidence and independence
So how do we create an environment that builds a strong sense of self and provides children with accurate feedback about who they are in this world?
First, parents need to be present in their children’s lives. In some cases, the demands of the business draw one or both parents away from their children. Physical and psychological absence can fuel a child’s resentment for their parents. If mom and dad rarely have time to get to know their child and build a relationship, how can they do their job as a parent? As a way to compensate for absence, parents might indulge their children. This only amplifies negative entitlement – the child believes they can receive benefits as long as the parents are acting irresponsibly.
When parents are present in their children’s lives, it’s important for them to set their own expectations aside. Give children room to pursue their own interests. Children are more likely to achieve when they are internally motivated rather than bending to the pressures (explicit or tacit) of parents.
Another common problem: parents who are quick to criticize their children’s mistakes. Parents shouldn’t impose their vision of what the child’s idealized self should be. That is for the child to discover on their own. What’s important is to provide support and understanding when mistakes are made and to allow children to have access to the most powerful teacher available: experience. This does not mean parents should protect children from consequences, but instead support them in dealing with the consequences. Only when a mistake will cause life-long physical damage should a parent intervene.
Next, parents need to set appropriate limits for their children. Things like curfew, school work, communication and relationships. Most importantly parents need to set limits around money management. This starts with setting an example for how to manage money. Teach them how to budget and make them earn their own money to purchase items they want or need.
Finally, it is important to give children manageable struggles. By doing so, we give them the opportunity to gradually build their sense of self. They learn to exhibit self-control and responsibility. Teach them that mistakes are acceptable – we all make them – so long as we learn from our mistakes and use them to better ourselves and others.
Have you encountered instances of negative entitlement within your family business? What have you done to help build positive entitlement?