The Sharpening Stone – Managing People Who Think They’re Special

My wife and I used to tell our kids, “You’re really special, but no more than anybody else.”  Despite that, they seem to have turned out okay.  At least that’s what their therapists tell us.

Most of us have encountered someone in the workplace who acts entitled.  They feel they’re deserving of special considerations or privileges, that their opinions should carry a lot of weight, and that the rules don’t really apply to them.  It’s a pain to manage those folks, isn’t it?

Take an instant to picture that person.

No, no, it’s not that millennial you hired last month.  If you’re the owner or a key leader in an organization, you should probably be picturing … yourself.  You might be the special someone who’s difficult to manage.

In his book, The Power Paradox, psychology professor Dacher Keltner makes a compelling case that groups give power to certain individuals because they are nice people who look out for others’ needs and advance the greater good. In other words, it’s probably your goodness that caused people to follow you in the first place.

But Keltner cautions that power is seductive – As we become more powerful, we change.  We reliably tend to lose our sense of empathy and begin to abuse the power.  His team’s research demonstrates that as we gain power: we become more self-centered and less capable of appreciating the feelings and viewpoints of others; we’re more prone to act on our desires and impulses, to speak our minds and make risky choices and gambles; we’re more likely to interrupt, tease, critique and humiliate others; and we tend to see ourselves as special  … as if the rules that apply to everybody else do not apply to us.

You might be thinking, “Yeah, that may happen to other leaders, but surely not to me.”  Okay, so maybe you’re exceptional even among leaders.

But for the leaders among us who might feel vulnerable too, and wish to guard against the corrupting influence of our rising power, I offer three simple suggestions for managing ourselves:

  • First, practice empathy.  Step back from time to time, and try to put yourself in other people’s shoes, appreciating their views, experiences and feelings.
  • Next, take careful inventory of your organization’s norms, rules, and policies. And then take a hard look in the mirror.  If you give yourself a pass or special treatment on any of those things, you may be slipping toward entitlement and abuse of power.
  • And finally, remember: you’re really special, but no more than anybody else.

About the Author: Rob Skacel, Ph.D.

Rob is a licensed psychologist with senior executive experience. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Franklin & Marshall College, and Master’s and Doctoral degrees from Purdue University. Rob began his career in the field of clinical psychology, splitting his time between patient care and management responsibilities. Within a few years, he began the transition to business psychology specialization. He has since held senior leadership positions in sizeable for-profit and non-profit organizations, where his responsibilities focused on performance improvement and organizational development.

Rob founded True Edge Performance Solutions in 2000, and maintained it as a part-time venture for a number of years as he continued to accrue executive experience. By 2006, True Edge had grown to the point where it required Rob’s full-time attention. Over the years, Rob has provided services to dozens of leaders and their organizations, in a variety of industry sectors such as manufacturing, professional services, health care, agribusiness, construction, education, non-profit, and trade associations.

The Sharpening Stone

The Sharpening Stone is a series of short videos from True Edge designed to sharpen leaders and their organizations.

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