A young man wearing a suit and tie entered the room, introduced himself, and took a seat before an interview panel of which I was participating in. He was seeking a position as a firefighter with our agency and although he had no previous experience, he spoke as if he were a fifteen-year veteran who had fought fires in the Bronx. I was not impressed and saw too many red flags with this guy. Then another panel member posed the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Without hesitating, Andy Arrogant said, “I see myself as the fire chief.” I immediately thought, “Wow! Really!? Are you that arrogant and clueless!?”
Sadly, this is only one example of many. During my career in the fire service, I had ample opportunities to participate in hiring and promotional processes not only in my fire department, but in others as well. Consequently, I had the chance to interview several highly qualified individuals who ultimately became good firefighters and then promoted through the ranks as fire officers. Unfortunately, there were also people who appeared before the interview panel with an attitude of entitlement portraying the arrogant attitude of, “I deserve this.” People like this are egotistical, puffed up with pride, and selfish.
Before moving on, let me caution you about not jumping to conclusions by thinking, “He must be writing about Millennials.” The attitude I described in the previous paragraph is a malady infecting people of all ages, sizes, shapes, colors, professions, etc. It is not confined to any one group of society.
Let’s take a minute and look at the word deserve. It means to be worthy of something and used alone, there is nothing wrong with the word. How we make the application is where the problems erupt, and the following two examples show the difference. First, there is Joe and Betty Schmuckatelli who started a successful business in 2017, but they have not had a vacation in four years. Joe and Betty are working themselves to the bone and are fatigued. One night at supper, Joe looks at Betty and says, “We deserve a vacation.” Yes! Joe is right, they need to get away and unwind.
Next, we have Firefighter Frankie who has been on the job for three years and is testing for the next position in his department: driver/operator. Frankie wants to drive the big rigs. Frankie has the technical expertise to operate a fire engine, but he has a reputation of thinking highly of himself. During the interview, Lieutenant Larry asks, “Why do you want this position?” Frankie replies, “I’ve been on the fire department for three years now, I know my way around the organization, I think people like me, and I deserve a shot at this.” Yes, I have heard statements like this. Firefighter Frankie has an attitude of entitlement and in his mind, he should be promoted because “I deserve a shot at this.”
Do you see the difference between the two examples? The same word ‘deserve’ appears in both, but the attitude and motivation behind the use is completely different. Joe and Betty have earned the vacation and they deserve one. Also, they should take the time off before one or both have a nervous breakdown. Frankie’s use of the word ‘deserve’ revolves around entitlement. In other words, “You owe me.”
I’m a member of the John Maxwell Team (JMT), and this past Saturday was Think Tank Day for those of us who are part of the JMT Mentorship Program. The last speaker of the day was Mark Cole who serves as the CEO of the Maxwell Leadership Enterprise. The title of his presentation was Leadership Depth: Going Deeper so You Can Take People Higher. Mark described seven capacities of depth and one of them was, The servanthood depth: caring. As I listened to him, I thought about the stark contrast between servanthood and deserveventhood. Yes, that is a new word that I took a literary license to create. The former is about adding value and serving others, while the latter revolves around the individual and their selfish attitude of “I deserve to be hired, to be promoted, to be recognized, etc.”
Let’s look at a few words beginning with ‘de’. When you deactivate your credit card, it may no longer be used. In cold and snowy weather, when the passenger aircraft is deiced, the snow and ice is being removed from the plane. To defame a person means to take away from their reputation and tear them down. The common theme is no longer active, present, or reputable.
Stepping away from the dictionary definition of deserve, when the letters ‘de’ are removed, the word that remains is serve. Consequently, during Mark Cole’s presentation, I began to look at ‘deserve’ in another light. Think about this. When a person invokes the belief that they deserve something, no longer is anyone else being served. The focus is now on the individual, what they want, and what that person believes they are entitled to. This attitude is 180 degrees opposite of serving others.
Returning to the story at the beginning of this article, did Andy Arrogant really believe he was going to be the fire chief in five years? Did he think we would be impressed with his drive and unrealistic ambition? Much to my consternation along with another member of the interview panel, Andy Arrogant became a member of our fire department and it was not long before he exhibited the “I deserve” entitlement attitude. He was a royal pain in the rear-end creating numerous problems before he finally went away.
So where do you fall into the picture? Do you deserve to be hired? Do you deserve to be promoted? Do you deserve to be the first in line? Do you deserve to attend the best university? Ask yourself, “When I use the word deserve, am I de-serving and de-valuing someone else?” I encourage you to be a servant leader, add value to others, put others first, and take the time to mentor and develop up-and-coming leaders.