4 Ways to Attack a Sense of Entitlement

Zappos is routinely recognized as an incredible place to work. They take leadership development seriously, are clear on their values and protective of them—even offering people money to leave if they do not fit the culture, and they give very generous perks.

Yet even Zappos struggles with employees displaying a sense of entitlement. Despite free perks around the office, during employee meetings some have asked for more free perks. Erica Spelman, who wrote on Zappos’ blog, wisely called entitlement a virus and pointed out that people often shift from “I’m grateful to have a job” to “my organization should be grateful to have me.”

If people have a “sense of entitlement,” they often have unreasonable expectations of the organization and act as if the organization exists for them. They show up each day with a posture of “here is what I am owed” rather than “here is how I am going to contribute.” People are owed certain things from the leaders they follow. Leaders, as servants and debtors to those who are following, owe the people they lead honesty, respect and care, clarity, and future leaders. A sense of entitlement goes well beyond that. People with a sense of entitlement display a prideful and divisive aura, sending the signal that we are all lucky to breathe the same air as they breathe.

A sense of entitlement can greatly harm the culture and the mission of a ministry or organization. A sense of entitlement is corrosive and crushes the collective soul of the team. Those the team is designed to serve become less and less important as self-centeredness reigns. When entitlement spreads, the ministry or organization acts as if it exists for itself instead of for others. As white blood cells attack sickness in a healthy body, a sense of organizational entitlement must be attacked. Here are four ways:

1. Point to the beginning

The basic truth is that a ministry or organization does not exist to employ people. The ministry or organization exists to serve people in some fashion and has invited others to join in on that mission. Continually remind people of the origins of the ministry or organization. “The ministry or organization was not started to give people jobs, perks or anything else. It was started to [insert your organization’s mission].”

2. Point to mission and values

Entitlement shows a loss of commitment to the mission and a loss of internalization of values. For this reason, leaders must continually remind people of the mission and the values that form the culture.

3. Point outside

Entitlement is the result of apathy and an inward focus. Define reality by pointing to opportunities, challenges and to the people the organization/ministry is there to serve. An external focus attacks a sense of entitlement.

4. Point to Jesus

Entitlement should exist less in a ministry environment, in a culture where Jesus is freely heralded. Because Jesus has served us by giving us His righteousness in exchange for our sin, our hearts should be overly grateful. Because He has challenged us to serve others in response to His service of us, our posture should be one that seeks to serve others. Not a posture that constantly looks for new ways to be served. As awe for Jesus increases, pride and selfishness decrease.

When leaders see entitlement festering, it is a good indication that they need to point people to the beginning, to the mission, to outside and to Jesus.  

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Eric Geiger
Eric Geiger serves as the Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. Prior to LifeWay, Eric served local churches, most recently investing eight years as the executive pastor of Christ Fellowship Miami. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.