Episode: The Trait That Destroys Any Team—And Its Antidote

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. Today we’re talking about the danger of entitlement and the power of its antidote: focusing on contribution.

Megan: Dad, I’m excited that we’re talking about this, because I hate entitlement, as I know you do. This is one of the most toxic ways of being that can ever come into an organization, and it is tough to root out if it finds its way into your company. So, this is an important thing for us to dig into today.

Michael: Okay. Let’s talk about where this comes from. This seems like kind of a cultural thing. Right? I never feel more old than when I say, “These young people today are so entitled.” But seriously. When I was growing up, if I had exhibited an attitude of entitlement in my family, that just wouldn’t fly. I was expected to make a contribution. I wasn’t entitled to anything. I kind of felt like the whole culture was like that, but there’s a shift that has taken place over time, and I’m not quite sure where it came from.

Megan: I don’t know either, but I do think, as there’s more affluence, as standard of living is raised everywhere, people’s expectation of what they think they deserve also raises with it. The problem is whatever is going on that is the cause of this culturally starts to show up in our companies if we’re not intentional to do something different, and then, all of a sudden, you have a scenario where people expect to get a raise every year just because they showed up to work or they expect other benefits just for doing the bare minimum.

They’re not contributors. They’re not focused on contributing. They’re not focused on adding value. They’re focused on what the company can do for them, not what they can do for the company. I can remember being in an interview with someone who was pretty young several years back, and she started the interview… This was back when I was part of the interview process earlier on. She didn’t really make it past that initial interview, as I remember.

Her whole pitch was a list of the ways she thought the company would help her achieve her life goals. I remember thinking, “That’s not the business we’re in. We’re going to do an exchange of value here. I’m going to give you money, potentially, so you can make a contribution to the company to help the company reach its goals.” Of course, in doing that, we help her accomplish her goals as well, but that’s not the explicit purpose of it. Right? It was a really strange conversation.

Michael: And it happens all the time, but I think it begins with a focus on what I deserve versus what I can contribute. The focus always, I think, as a leader, has to be “How can we serve? How can we make a contribution?” and then the rewards will follow. You can’t get that backward. I’ve been in interviews like that too, where people are like, “Well, what will you pay me to do that?” Well, obviously, there’s going to be an exchange of value, but what I want to know is “What are you willing to do to earn this money that I’m willing to pay you? Let’s talk about your contribution first, and then we’ll talk about the reward for it.”

I was literally just reading this morning in my devotional that the thing that defines leaders, at least from a biblical perspective, is the willingness to serve. Everything comes out of that. Sort of the popular notion of leadership today is if you’re in a position of leadership, what you get with that is power or fame or riches or something. How else do you explain this influencer culture that we see on social media?

Megan: It’s so gross.

Michael: It makes us sick. And they call themselves leaders, but they’re not really leaders in any sense of the word.

Megan: They’re famous for being famous.

Michael: Right. It’s kind of an institutionalized social narcissism.

Megan: One of the other places I’ve seen this show up is when people want a raise. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make more money, of course. That’s a good thing. But I have been approached over the years in probably every way you can imagine by people wanting raises, and normally, it’s great.

Normally, people come and say, “Hey, I have added this value in the last several years or the last year, and here’s what I think I can do in the coming year. I’m so excited about all of these ways I can serve,” and they’re specific. “I’d like to just humbly and boldly ask you for X raise.” When people come to me like that… They don’t really come to me directly anymore, necessarily, but we’re very open to considering that. We want to recognize people’s contribution.

But when somebody says, “Hey, I’ve been here for three years and I haven’t gotten a raise. What’s the company policy on that?” I just want to hit my head against the wall, because that’s entitlement. That’s “I’ve been sitting in this chair, and I deserve this raise.” Fortunately, that almost never happens for us, and certainly not when people are here long term. But that’s the way entitlement sounds versus someone focused on contribution.

Michael: Let me ask you a question. As a leader, as a worker in our company, if you didn’t get a raise, would you still keep contributing?

Megan: Absolutely.

Michael: Would you find ways to contribute even more?

Megan: Of course.

Michael: Yeah. I think for a person who’s healthy and for a person who’s a true leader, they can’t not do that.

Megan: That’s right. It’s just how they’re wired.

Michael: I think the rewards follow, but, at least for the best leaders I know, it’s not a quid pro quo. It’s not like, “Well, I’m only going to keep contributing as long as you keep acknowledging and upping the ante.” That’s not right, but that happens in a lot of organizations.

Okay. Let’s talk about this in the context of this new core value we have at our company and what it means to you, Megan, because you were the one who really came up with this.

Megan: First of all, let me just set the stage for a second. A couple of weeks ago, we had our annual team meeting. This is a meeting where we present our annual plan to the entire team. We acknowledge promotions that have happened. We share our staffing plan for the year, our product plans, all kinds of stuff. We’ll probably do a whole episode about this in the future, because I know a lot of people are curious exactly what that meeting entails.

We have a section when we go through our core ideology, which is our vision, our mission, and our values, and we also give core value awards to the team members who best embody one of our eight core values. These are people who are nominated by our team. Dad, you and I don’t get to vote. We have taken ourselves out of that process. It’s really fun to see who the person is who our team thinks best embodies these values. A big focus of that meeting is celebrating the incarnation of these values, because it only matters if you have core values if they get lived out in your organization. If they’re just on a wall, who cares?

Michael: That’s right.

Megan: So, every year, as a part of our strategic planning process, we review our core values, and we ask the question if they’re still relevant. Is there anything that needs to be adjusted? This year, we decided we really wanted to add a new core value (and what that meant was taking one away and replacing it with a new one) around contribution, because in our succession planning process, you and I got some clarity around how we see the company, our role in stewarding it, our role as leaders that, really, we want everybody in the company to espouse. We want this to be baked into the DNA of who we are.

For us, that means we think our life is a gift. We think we are put here on earth to serve other people, to add value to people, that we have a responsibility to God for how we use our time and steward it on behalf of others and for impact in the world. We felt like that needed to be a behavior and a mindset that is core to who we are and made explicit in this value of what we ultimately named enthusiastic contribution at Michael Hyatt & Company.

So, I’m going to read it to you, and then, Dad, I’ll just ask you to share some of your thoughts on it. Enthusiastic contribution means we view our work and the people we work with as a gift, and we show it by adding value to every person and situation we encounter. Again, enthusiastic contribution. So, Dad, what are your thoughts on that?

Michael: Well, I think you nailed it in the statement. We do view our work and the people we work with as a gift. Even as a leader, I’m not entitled to these people’s best service. That’s my part. Their part for contribution is they want to give their best work, but as a leader, I’m not entitled to that. It’s a gift. I have this gift of these people who are working with me and for me for a limited period of time. It’s not forever. I’m not entitled to their service for the rest of their lives.

Here’s what that means. That means that when they decide to move on… Entitlement would be angry, like, “How could they leave after all I’ve done for them?” That’s what entitlement looks like when you’re a leader. Or “How dare they go to work for one of my competitors?” What stewardship would look like is see the time I’ve had with them as a gift, and I hope I’ve invested in them and made them a better person and that they can leave with all that and make a contribution somewhere else.

I think of my kids as a gift. I’m not entitled to them being submissive to me for the rest of their lives. They’re a gift I have for a period of time. My goal as a parent is to de-parent them and to send them into the world so they can be stewards over what God gives to them. So, that gift thing is very important. That’s the opposite of entitlement. I’ve been given this gift, and because I’ve been given a gift, I have a responsibility of stewardship for which I’ll give an account and which is also temporary.

We show that that’s a gift, as you said in this sentence, by adding value to every person and situation we encounter. So, the person who’s committed to enthusiastic contribution, the opposite of entitlement… In every situation they go into, there’s some version of “How can I leave this better than I found it?”

I wanted to leave this company better than I found it, which, as the founder, it was hard not to do that, but now you’re going to be stewarding this. You’re the new CEO. You’re going to be stewarding this for some period of time (it’s not going to be forever), and you want to leave it to your successor in better shape than you found it when you got it from me.

Megan: So, where does that come from for you? I actually know the answer to this question, but I want people to hear this, because I think it’s important as you’re thinking about sort of the soul of your company, which is really where your core vales should come from. What are your early experiences that formed these values in you and, for you in particular, this idea of leaving things better than you found them and this idea of life being a gift? Where does that come from?

Michael: I think a couple of places. First of all, I can’t avoid the theological answer to this. My worldview is that God created all things, including me, and by virtue of that creation he has a claim on my life for which I’m answerable and that I have a specific purpose. By the way, even in purpose, I don’t think I have a singular purpose. I have a purpose for this season in my life, and that can change over time. You have a purpose in this season of your life.

The thing I love about that is it frees me from the burden of trying to define an overarching purpose that’ll be true in every season. I mainly got this insight, by the way, just to give credit where credit is due, from your sister, my daughter, Mary, who did a series on her podcast on purpose, and she talked about multiple purposes. I love that.

Anyway, it does come from a theological kind of construct, that God has given me this life and I’m answerable for it. I need to be a good steward of it. But also it comes from some of the early training I got as a young boy. My dad would say to me, “Son, if you borrow somebody’s lawn mower or if you borrow a piece of equipment from your neighbor, you always want to return it in better shape than you found it.”

So, if you borrow a pair of pruning shears and they’re dirty, or whatever, you want to clean them up before you return them. Or if you borrow somebody’s car… In those days, that was fairly common when I was growing up. You’d borrow somebody’s car for something, and you’d get it washed and fill it up with gas even if it was mostly empty when you got it. It’s the idea of leaving it in better shape than when you found it. My parents drilled that into me, so it just became an unspoken assumption about the way I approached life.

Megan: I love that. Probably everybody has a story similar to that that they can remember as a kid. You know, it’s something your parents said or your grandparents or a teacher. Sometimes those are some of the most foundational values that really become the operating system of our lives. It’s important that we infuse those into our company, because that’s our expectation for how we want people to behave and how we understand the world to work best, and that’s part of what we need to do as a leader.

That’s true, by the way, whether you’re the CEO or owner of a company or whether you’re leading a team or you’re leading one person. You can have core values that you make explicit to help guide behavior in any of those situations. I love that story, because what I hear when you say that is that our orientation needs to be on what we can give, what we can contribute, not what we can take.

Michael: This is important, again, for leaders. Sort of the conventional, modern version of this is “I want to have a group of people who work for me so they can serve me and make my life easier.” That’s kind of the opposite of what I’m talking about. As a leader, we have to see ourselves (it’s a biblical idea) as servants of other people.

How can I serve them so they can serve our customers? And ultimately, if we do that, our customers and our clients will take care of us. It’s sort of the upside-down model of servant leadership, and I think that’s so important. One of the questions I wanted to ask you, though… Do you try to hire people who already have this mindset or do you think you can train people who come to your company who may not have this fully formed?

Megan: Well, I think there’s a difference between not fully formed and not formed at all. I absolutely am not going to hire someone who is clearly entitled. You know, the woman I told the story about who I interviewed several years ago who had her list of all of the ways the company could help her achieve her life goals. She obviously did not advance in the process. However, I would say that anytime we hire someone, we’re looking for…

I like to use the language of values alignment better than culture alignment. I think culture alignment can sometimes become a euphemism for the same as us, and it can be at odds with creating diversity and other things like that, so I don’t really like that, but I think values alignment is something we’re looking for, and it’s what we probably meant when we said cultural fit before.

So, I’m looking for more fit than not, and I also know people are in process. We hire a lot of people who come out of environments where they were working too much, where they were expected to work 10- to 12-hour days, and they’re kind of recovering workaholics. I think that’s for two reasons. First, we are an achievement-oriented company, and we really place a high value on intentional margin. That is one of our other core values.

So it’s a relief for people. It’s something they’re looking for in their lives that they find unsustainable in their current situation, but that is a process of learning to not work too much. It’s a process of learning how to think differently about your time, how to think differently about your contribution so you’re able to make your highest and best contribution in less time, you know, have less time spent on things that are not your highest and best contribution. I’m not looking for perfection, in other words.

Michael: Part of that contribution, too, is outside of work. When we talk about margin, we’re not talking about financial margin. Sometimes people misunderstand that. Financial margin is important, because it can sometimes buy the other kind of margin that we’re really talking about, which is time.

We want people to contribute at work and make a solid contribution here, but to also have the freedom or the margin, the time, to be able to make a contribution in the other areas of their lives that are important, whether that’s their family or their place of worship or their community. Wherever it is, we want them to be able to make a contribution there as well.

Megan: That’s an interesting point too. In some ways, this value of enthusiastic contribution for us is kind of the counterbalance to our value of intentional margin. The way we can have intentional margin, the ability for people to have time outside of work for their most important priorities and really place a high value on that… It’s not some kind of magical thing, like somehow, magically, we can get done 40 hours of work in 30 hours a week, which is what we’re working toward right now.

It’s not magic. It’s that we’re so focused on enthusiastic contribution, on “What is the value of the work I’m doing to the company, and how can I do the most valuable work enthusiastically?” That enables us to get more high-leverage work (high leverage is another one of our values), work with a disproportionate return on investment relative to the time, than we otherwise would.

It’s helpful, because, again, we’re kind of looking for painting a picture with our core values that says all of these things together is how we want to be in the world. Any one value all by itself is not the whole picture, but together, these things are in concert with one another, and this is who we are at Michael Hyatt & Company and, as you say, how we want to behave on the way to accomplishing our vision in this company.

Michael: By the way, if you’re wondering what the value that got removed or modified was, we had a value called infectious enthusiasm. Megan, in your thinking, how did you get from that to enthusiastic contribution?

Megan: First of all, I will say this. It’s important to us to not have too many values. That’s not a hard and fast rule, but we have eight. Part of that is because we want people to remember them, and we want them to be few enough that they can be operationalized inside the company. If there are too many… Let’s say you had 12 or 15 or 20 values, which probably all of us could think of 12 to 20 things that are important to us.

The problem is you can’t hold those in your head, and you can’t constantly be referencing them to measure your behavior against. So, keeping the number small was important. In our strategic planning process, as we looked at these and asked the question, “Are they still relevant? Do these still express how we want to be in the world, how we want to behave on the way to accomplishing our vision?” infectious enthusiasm, we felt like, was the weakest of all eight.

The definition for that for us was “We believe we work in the best company on earth, and we spontaneously spread that enthusiasm to others, our customers, and our audience.” The truth is we liked that value a lot. We liked the enthusiasm part of it, but it kind of lacked a purpose. Like, why are we so enthusiastic? What’s the big impact of that? So, when we thought about it more, we thought, “You know what? We want to be enthusiastic about contribution. We want to take that same energy and apply it to contribution.”

If you don’t get contribution at Michael Hyatt & Company, you’re not going to last long, because that is underlying everything else we do: this sense of stewardship, this sense of accountability, this sense of having this gift we get to hold in our hands, and it’s our work every day, and it’s each other, and that really matters to us. We want to be passionate and enthusiastic about that. So that’s how we came to that decision.

Michael: That’s good. Thank you. One of the things I was thinking we might want to talk about is some of the markers of enthusiastic contribution or not-entitlement. The place where this always comes into clear focus for me is… And I don’t do this frequently, but occasionally, we eat at Chick-fil-A, and one of my favorite things about it… I mean, the chicken is amazing, but one of the best things about it is the response that all of the employees give. They serve you your meal, and you say, “Thank you,” and they say…what?

Megan: “My pleasure.”

Michael: That’s such a stark contrast between… Sometimes I’ll go to another, especially fast food, restaurant, and you say, “Thank you,” and there’s nothing. Or they might just say, “You’re welcome.” It’s a subtle kind of entitlement mindset that’s very different. I never get that sense at Chick-fil-A. They’ve ingrained that into their team that working at Chick-fil-A is a privilege and a gift; therefore, they can respond with, “My pleasure.”

I know one of the things my wife tried to drill into you girls growing up was that when you were asked to do something, you would just say, “Sure,” cheerfully, as opposed to rolling your eyes and grumbling about it. Again, realizing that it’s a privilege to be in the family. We’re providing for you food, clothing, a place to live, all that, so to ask you to do something occasionally is not an imposition on you. It’s an opportunity for you to return the service.

Megan: That’s right. It’s funny. Our oldest son Fionn actually works at Chick-fil-A. He has been there for a while now. When we ask him to do something or he picks something up at the grocery store for us, or whatever, I’ll say, “Hey, thanks, Fionn, for getting that half a gallon of milk at Publix.” He’ll say, “Oh, it’s my pleasure.” I said the other day, “Fionn, you don’t have to say ‘It’s my pleasure’ at home. I mean, I don’t want you to feel that pressure.”

Michael: Oh, I wouldn’t stop that.

Megan: He said, “Meggie…” Because he’s my stepson. He said, “Meggie, I couldn’t stop saying it if I tried. It’s so ingrained in me. I’ll never look back.” It’s so great. But to your question of what the characteristics or attributes of enthusiastic contribution are… One of them is gratitude. It’s just this posture of gratitude, that everything and everyone that comes into your life you’re grateful for, even the hard things. You choose gratitude and you choose to express gratitude all the time.

So, when a coworker gets you that report you asked for or when your assistant brings you lunch, you don’t just assume that’s their job, even if it is part of their job description. You’re actively thanking people. I think about this in myself. I want to be a person who other people know as someone who is always thankful, who’s always acknowledging other people. I think that’s one of the things that’s characteristic of enthusiastic contribution.

Michael: Love that. Okay. I love gratitude, but another one is going the extra mile. When a coworker asks you to do something or your boss asks you to do something, here’s what you don’t say. Here’s what entitlement looks like: “That’s not my job.”

Megan: Oh gosh. I hate it when people say that.

Michael: Oh, that makes me crazy!

Megan: That’s almost like the cardinal sin you cannot recover from.

Michael: That’s exactly right. Instead, the person who sees themselves as a steward, who sees themselves as a servant in the best sense is somebody who says, “Sure. Let me help with that.” Again, it comes from a sense of stewardship. It comes from a sense of gratitude…the willingness to serve others even when it’s outside the scope of your job description.

Megan: Absolutely. I think of this in relation to my new chief of staff Erin who I hired in November. She came on right at the end of our strategic planning process while we were planning our annual team meeting. I thought to myself, “Well, she probably won’t be able to do much with that. She’s going to be so focused on getting acclimated in her role and doing other things she probably won’t be able to do it.” Not so. She took over that whole process. She designed an amazing slide deck, a beautiful binder for our presentation of our strategic plan to our executive and leadership teams.

I mean, she absolutely exceeded my expectation way beyond what I had even asked her to do. I thought she would help me do those things. Instead, she took total ownership of it, ran with it, went the extra mile. It was her baby until it was time for that baby to be delivered, and she did. Man, it was incredible. So, I think that’s a good example. What I asked her to do was here, and how she performed was up here. That was totally internally driven. That was not me who did that.

The other thing I think of as an attribute of enthusiastic contribution is collaboration. One of the perspectives of someone who is a steward and, therefore, not an owner is that they don’t have a lot of ego. They’re happy to go the extra mile, as we just said, but they’re also happy to work together with others to create a great solution or an outcome. It’s not important to them that they get all the credit. It’s not important to them that they protect their turf.

They’re willing to jump in to work together with their peers and make something great or to just help out. Even if they get no recognition at all, it doesn’t matter. They’re willing to work together without all the drama and ego that oftentimes is characteristic of organizations. This is one of the best benefits in my mind. You just see all over the place people who are willing to jump in, help one another, and accomplish things that otherwise, if they stayed siloed or they stayed strictly in their own lane, they could never accomplish.

Michael: If you want to build this quality into your organization, as we’ve said so many times…it’s our fundamental philosophy of leadership…it has to start with you as the leader. You can’t afford to be anything other than a steward in your own thinking, that you’re going to make an enthusiastic contribution to other people.

You can’t, as a leader, be entitled. If you are, you will replicate that in your team. You will create an entitled team. So, you have to be willing to be grateful, to serve others, to collaborate with others, and to have this quality of enthusiastic contribution if you’re going to make this a cultural value that’s going to make it past your leadership and on to the generation to come.

Megan: Well, I hope this has been helpful for you all today. I think you will find if you install this value in your company in some form or fashion, what you’ll end up with is a team that is self-propelled, a team that is excited to get to work and add value to the organization and to each other, and that is so rewarding for them and also for you. Guys, thanks for joining us today. Until next week, lead to win.