The Smartest Guys in the Room

Recently, I had the opportunity to read The Smartest Guys in the Room: a fascinating book about the meteoric rise and sudden fall of Enron in 2001.

Enron was characterized by greed and hubris: Enron’s focus was making money, regardless of potential risks or adverse consequences. At the same time, a string of successes created huge financial bonuses and massive perks, which made the happy employees believe that they were infallible and nothing could go wrong.

These mindsets created a pervasive entitlement culture: The belief that you should not be rewarded because of the value you create for others, but because of what you are, such as being the smartest, having the most experience, having the right education, etc.

Entitlement kills high performance. The reason is that the core of professional success is that you will have no problem to get what you want, if you first give others what they want. After all, life is more like a Chinese take-away, than a Michelin start restaurant. At a Michelin start restaurant, you eat first, and then you pay. On the other hand, at a Chinese take-away, you pay first, after which you can eat. The steps are the same, but the order of the steps is different.

Therefore, be careful not to create an entitlement culture by putting rewards and perks for your employees as your highest goal. A business must have value creation for its clients as its highest priority instead. Otherwise, the twin forces of greed and hubris will eventually bring you down. 

Photo Credit: iStockPhoto/Devonyu

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