Slippery Slopes are Paved with Entitlement

Those who have analyzed, parsed and nitpicked at Tiger Woods’ mea culpas have all missed the most important lesson to be learned from his very public failures. While the media focuses on the most salacious acts of infidelity and sex – suggesting sexual addiction – they have missed the real reason for Tiger’s problems. They missed the point – one that Tiger clearly identified in his statement – and that is his highly-developed attitude of entitlement.

To say that Tiger’s problem was caused by an addiction to sex is a cover-up and deflection of the real Bob MacDonald on Tiger Woodsissue. (Let’s be honest here. If every guy were given the opportunities presented to Tiger – women throwing themselves at them at every turn – then sex addiction clinics would be a growth industry.)

Tiger may have an addiction, but it is, in reality, a distorted craving that comes with an attitude of entitlement. Sex was simply Tiger’s way of exercising his “right” of entitlement: the mistaken belief that one’s achievements entitles a person to some particular reward or benefit—whether it’s illegal, immoral, or unethical. Just listen to Tiger: “I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to . . . [that I] deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me.”

Tiger is not the first, and certainly will not be the last to fall prey to the destructive addiction to entitlement. Those who attain any level of success, influence and power are constantly exposed to the temptations of entitlement. And, the truth is that most fall victim to it in some form or another. For Tiger, sex was the expression of his entitlement; for others it may be money, perks or status. For some, it is all of that and more.

For athletes the attitude of entitlement is brought on by their unique ability to perform on the playing field and the hero worship such feats engender. From the time an athlete first exhibits the talent to do what others cannot do they are pampered and given privileges not available to others.

Worse, superstars like Tiger are surrounded by a phalanx of aides who are only too willing – in order to gain something for themselves – to tell the athlete how special they are. If the athlete comes from a disadvantaged background or lacks the experience to keep these adulations in perspective, then the attitude of entitlement is not easy to identify and resist. It becomes difficult for the athlete to distinguish the worship of his achievements from his persona.

In Business as in Sports

Athletes are not alone in facing the challenges of entitlement. Business, political and even religious leaders succumb to the addiction of entitlement.

For these individuals entitlement is brought on by a, “but for me” attitude.

The successful business leader can develop the attitude of, “But for me the company would not be as successful or as profitable.” No one would argue that Jack Welch, the retired CEO of GE, was not an honest and outstanding leader. He built GE into a juggernaut of success and profitability. For this, he was paid hundreds of millions of dollars. And yet, when he retired (with a $400 million parting package) it came to light that GE was paying for an apartment in New York, his season tickets at Yankee Stadium and that he had the right to use the corporate planes for free. Clearly, Welch could have easily paid for these items himself and there is nothing illegal about the actions, but they are a great example of being addicted with entitlement. Welch argued (and believed) that for all he did to make GE successful he was entitled to these benefits. After all, compared to all the profits “he had made” for GE, these benefits were just a drop in the bucket.

Over the past few years we have witnessed scores of business executives exposed, and is some cases criminally indicted, for lavish spending on themselves and their families. Some of these executives were – pure and simple – crooks. However, I would argue that the vast majority of them did not intend to do something illegal and did not see themselves as crooks. These individuals saw nothing wrong with their actions, because they had become addicted to entitlement that caused them to feel that “but for them” the company would not be successful and they were entitled these outlandish benefits. That attitude of superiority was never more neatly encapsulated than by Leona Helmsley, the billionaire New York City hotel operator and real estate investor, who famously declared, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”

Politics is no Different

Political leaders are especially susceptible to entitlement; in big and small ways. After all, they are “doing the work of the nation,” and are entitled to the benefits of such work. Forget the politicos who take bribes, addiction to entitlement can show itself in small ways. A few years ago on a rainy day in Boston, a Senator from Minnesota pushed his way to the front of a long taxi line. When challenged, he indignantly responded that he was a United States Senator doing the work of the nation and was entitled to move to the head of the line.

Other politicians see no problem accepting free trips, gifts and dinners. These are not bribes in their eyes, but rather something they are entitled to because of their position. On a grander scale, Richard Nixon stood before the nation and stated, “I am not a crook.” In his mind he was not a crook, but in his position as President of the United States he was severely afflicted with the addiction of entitlement that made it okay to do what he did, because he was – well the President. (We won’t discuss President Clinton’s perceived entitlements here.)

Even religious leaders will fall prey to the affliction of entitlement. Twenty years ago Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were the most prominent of a gaggle of television evangelists. They had a daily television show – PTL – that was broadcast worldwide and collected millions of dollars to “do God’s work.” The Bakkers started their mission with the best of intentions. They sincerely believed they could help people. However, as their ministry grew in prominence, power and wealth, they both became exposed to and afflicted by the disease of entitlement.

They began to spend millions of dollars of money collected by PTL on fancy cars, homes, private jet travel and extravagant shopping tours. (It was reported that on one shopping trip to New York Tammy Faye bought so many items that a second jet had to be chartered to carry them all back home!)

When exposed for their actions – which landed Jim in prison – their rationale was that they had raised so much money to help the poor, they were entitled to the benefits they took. Their convoluted logic – which they actually seemed to believe – was that if they raised $5 million dollars for PTL and spent $1 million on themselves, that it was okay because the mission still had $4 million it would not have had if it had not been for them. And two sets of books temporarily kept their entitlements flowing undetected.

As Tiger Woods has learned only so well, entitlement can be a deceiving and disastrous addiction that can quickly and easily destroy all the good work a person has done that caused them to be exposed to entitlement in the first place.

And the Moral of the Story …

The infection of entitlement is devious. It can make good people – folks as good as you or me — do bad things. Fortunately, there are actions that if taken can inoculate against and offer immunity to the sickness of entitlement.

It starts by understanding and recognizing the temptations of entitlement. If the CEO truly believes he is the reason for the success of his company, he will be highly susceptible to the lure of entitlement. However, if he recognizes that he is successful only because of the efforts of others and if he also recognizes that people who pander to him do so because of what he is, not who he is, then he will have resistance to the perils of entitlement. If the politician truly believes that his election only entitles him to the privilege of serving the interests of the people, he will be less likely to fall prey to other entitlements. If the athlete believes that his unique talent is a gift that allows him to achieve much, but that such talent does not make him different from others in a way that puts him above the rules, then he will be able to rise above the feeling of entitlement. In all cases, entitlement is compounded when those who surround the successful person become enablers of entitlement, because they benefit personally in a way they never would be able to on their own.

In his statement Tiger Woods acknowledged he had yielded to the affliction of entitlement and the addiction it can create. Let’s hope that he is sincere in this and can learn from it. But more importantly, let’s hope that all of us can also learn from this unfortunate situation.

When we find ourselves believing we are entitled to something that others are not entitled to, simply because we believe we are better than others, then recognize we have started down the slippery slope of entitlement.

One response to “Slippery Slopes are Paved with Entitlement

  1. I really liked the article and have a follow up question. Would you treat an employee that has worked at a company for 20 years and is now facing the potential of being laid off differently than someone younger with similar qualifications? Is all of the work and profits made by this employee in the past irrelevant to future decision making? I feel that many companies like mine do not value the effort of the older employees when it comes to downsizing. What obligation does a company have to an employee for past performance?

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