Danger in the Comfort Zone

October 4, 2012 — 11 Comments

Danger in the Comfort Zone

By Judith M. Bardwick

LeaderThis book was published in 1991, and if more businesses would’ve read and applied some of the principles, the United States may not be in the position it is today. I know that’s a bold statement, but after I share some of Ms. Bardwick’s thoughts with you, you may feel the same way.

The subtitle to this book is From Boardroom to Mailroom – How to Break the Entitlement Habit That’s Killing American Business, it sounds like in 1991 Ms. Bardwick had already recognized that America was heading for trouble.

What is entitlement anyways? Judith describes it as an attitude, one that makes people believe that they don’t have to earn what they get. They get what they want because of who they are, not because of what they do.

In the first chapter, The American Dream Shattered, she describes American supervisors who tolerate low achievement and stopped evaluating employees and discharging those who were unproductive. This is especially obvious of senior employees who plateaued in their careers.

The second chapter, When Organizations Are Too Comfortable – The Lethargy of Entitlement outlines how organizations treat all employees the same. Good performers are treated the same as poor performers, giving people to much job security. When people don’t have to earn what they get they soon take for granted what they receive, and want more instead of being grateful.

Chapter three, When Organizations Are Stressed – The Paralysis of Fear, describes how fear can cripple an organization. Fear of layoffs, takeovers or reorganizations and even major change can increase the anxiety levels in employees. When this creates fear employees productivity levels drop because worried people don’t get a lot of work done. I think the key take away from this chapter is how important it is for the leader to communicate and reassure the employees that things will be better.

When Organizations Are Revitalized – The Energy of Earningchapter explains why people prefer to be held accountable. They want to be rewarded for the hard work they do. When an organization achieves this philosophy they have developed an earning environment.

Chapter five, Understanding How People Work – The Earning Curve states that when then the level of stress is either very low or very high, productivity is very low. The key is to keep the anxiety level at the right level. The difficult part for a leader is when an individual doesn’t handle the organizations level of anxiety. The author, Judith Bardwick uses a bell curve to display the different points where an organization or individual are on the bell curve. The lower the number the more entitled a person feels and the higher the number the more fearful a person may feel.

Chapter six, Moving Away From Entitlement – Increase Pressure, is a leader’s greatest challenge. How do you start to hold employees more accountable and push them into the psychology of Earning? The three points to the left of the bell curve, where people have an entitlement attitude, starts with;

  • Confront with support (point 1) – Increase accountability and be very clear about requiring performance,
  • Confront (point 2) – Evaluate everyone fairly, by ranking them, also increase the condition of receiving awards,
  • Challenge (point 3) – Leaders need to ask people their opinion and motivate them by telling them they can do significantly better work.

In chapter seven, Moving Away From Fear – Decrease Pressure, also outlines the three points to the right of the bell curve where a leader must address employees’ fears;

  • Support by addressing emotions (point 9) – Leaders need to express that they know what’s happening and offer reassurance and support.
  • Support through success and by addressing emotion (point 8) Reassure employees that if everyone works together things will get better and they will succeed. Recognize achievement while maintaining some amount of pressure on under achievers.
  • Support through success (point 7) – Leaders need to emphasize the opportunities that lie in the future for the organization and provide goals for employees. Success will bread confidence, which will reduce anxiety levels.

Chapter eight on Maintaining the Creative Energy of Earning explains how to keep employees in the three center points of the bell curve keeping the organization in a “earning attitude.”

  • Encourage risk taking (point 4) – Leaders need to encourage risk taking and continually encourage people to stretch.
  • Focus on sustaining excellence (point 5) – This is the optimum level, organizations may need to change just for the sake of changing. Employees at this level are always looking for a challenge.
  • Encourage prudence (point 6) –These organizations enjoy risk and may put to much pressure on their employees, so they need to ease up some.

The New Paradigm outlined in chapter 9 explains how leaders need to know how to get people to work in collaborative teams and how some leaders need to changes their management style to shake out the entitlement attitude. The only way people get more, is if they do more.

Chapter ten, One a Personal Side hits home, how do we raise our kids to give them everything they want and holding them accountable for some of the same dumb things you did? Entitled adults, those 30 year old sons still living at home or an ungrateful spouse, generally don’t know they have an entitlement attitude. They tend to have either no ambition or unrealistic high goals.

The last chapter consists of questions and answers.

This is really an interesting book, I have to admit that I haven’t finished reading it cover to cover, but it is a definite must read for leaders at all levels.

What are some of examples of entitlement have you seen?

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