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Transforming entitlement into duty (and inspiration)

How can we avoid feeling a sense of entitlement as leaders and coaches?

4 min read


Transforming entitlement into duty (and inspiration)


“I earned it!”

That is a statement that most leaders I know can make readily, but most of them don’t. The most effective leaders with whom I have worked know typically change the personal pronoun “I” to “we” — “We earned it!”

In his newest book, “The Intelligent Leader: Unlocking the 7 Secrets to Leading Others and Leaving Your Legacy,” executive coach John Mattone presents an exercise that gets to the heart of how leaders need to think. Mattone suggests that when good fortune smiles on you, take a moment to take a personal inventory. Specifically, John suggests describing your success, how you feel about it and, most importantly, who helped you achieve this success. Doing so will frame your thinking as one who has benefitted from the assistance of others. 

Doing this, according to Mattone, will help you avoid entitlement in favor of acknowledging your true role as a servant who helps others achieve. In an interview, Mattone, a colleague of mine, explained that in our culture, where narcissism is on the rise, entitlement is a reality.

“I’ve found this mentality to be a particular challenge when it comes to leadership and helping the next generation of potential leaders to develop,” says Mattone. “Many aspiring leaders want to leap into management positions and command authority before they’ve put in the time and sweat equity to earn them. It’s often too much about them and not enough about the sense of obligation they feel to those they want to lead, which in my book is the key to being a good leader.”

Saying no to me!

Getting rid of the entitlement mindset is a challenge that Mattone, as an executive coach, faces. “First and foremost, a coach can help a leader or aspiring leader to cultivate a clearer picture of themselves — their strengths, their weaknesses, and where they reside on their own developmental journey.”

A 360-degree assessment is a useful tool for addressing issues that hold may be holding an executive back.

“If you can get someone to take a blunt, unbiased look at who they are, it sparks their conscience. They see the ways that they thought they were thriving but have more work to do,” Mattone says. “They start to see themselves through the eyes of others and see the impact they have on those around them. This creates a sense of humility in people that naturally begins to root out their entitlement and give birth to a sense of duty.”

It is essential, according to Mattone, that leaders adopt the mindset of duty, something we assume only those in the military do. “To be an example that others want to follow (as opposed to feeling like they have to follow out of fear or obligation), you have to become a better person. Even if you’re already great, you can always improve. This perspective on leadership is less about me and more about we.”

Mattone continues, “When you look at leadership this way, it creates a natural sense of obligation, but not the heavy kind that feels burdensome. You want to become a better person, a better leader so that those around you will be inspired to follow. You see that your collective success depends on your leadership.”

“When leaders are able to see their development in this context, it’s a sense of inspiration — not a burden. Their duty gives them a sense of pride and purpose. It ignites their character and their talents in a way that just getting something for themselves never can.”

The sense of duty is essential to effective leadership. Those who succeed best are those that bring others together for common cause. The cause is more significant than the leader, and as a result, if and when achieved, are more significant, too.


John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach. In 2018, Trust Across America honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Trust. Also in 2018, named Baldoni a Top 100 Leadership Speaker. In 2019, Global Gurus ranked him No. 9 on its list of top 30 global experts, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, named Baldoni to its list of top 50 leadership experts. Baldoni is the author of 14 books, including“MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership” and his newest, “GRACE: A Leader’s Guide to a Better Us.” Learn more about why he wrote “GRACE” in this short video.

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