Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > I’m happy to aspire to things, happier still to earn them, but entitlement; no thanks

I’m happy to aspire to things, happier still to earn them, but entitlement; no thanks

There once was a schoolboy who wasn’t too sure what he wanted to be when he grew up, but he was quite keen on factories and offices, even if he didn’t understand too much about what went on there. The day came when he had to get a job and, perhaps fittingly for someone who liked buildings, he began to train as a surveyor. A recession curtailed that career, and he found himself working for an insurance giant in the City, but even the prospect of one day stalking the floor at Lloyd’s placing business with the syndicates was not enough of a draw. No, this youth wanted an office and a secretary. He didn’t know why, nor grasp what he would need to do to get or retain such trappings, but that was what he wanted. The City was a bore and he drifted into the retail and wholesale trade where his aspirations were refined through visits to many a private office, sometimes to be rewarded but, more often, to be chastised. As he would stand and take his medicine he took in the subtle benefits of the corner office, of mahogany over laminate, of carpet over lino, of the North West corner over the South East and more. From his early forays into management positions it took almost 10 years before everything came together and he not only realised what he needed to be able to contribute to a business for him to warrant an office of his own, but was able to demonstrate it to the satisfaction of those above him. By then he was with an organisation where such things were carefully prescribed; 11m2, carpet, swivel chair (with arms), desk with two pedestals (lockable), visitor’s chair, 4 drawer filing cabinet (lockable) and 3 hook coat stand. His name would be on a plate affixed to the door and his name and telephone number would appear in bold type in the internal telephone directory. To these things he was entitled. From that first box in the corner of the room to the North West corner office and a secretary (OK, a half share of one) took less than a third of the time it had taken to get to first base, but a dreadful irony cast its shadow on this idyll. For now that our hero had achieved his aspirations and more, he found that he wanted to discard them. In arriving at the position where the buck for delivering results stopped where he sat, one of the key things he had learned about earning that place was that leaders needed to lead by example. At a time when there was a need for austerity and sacrifice all around, why was he sat in splendid isolation in a space that would take 6 workers in comfort? So the corner room on the top floor of the office was swapped, firstly for what had been a store room in the warehouse, and then for a desk in the open plan and then for cadging a desk. All of the trappings that he had aspired to for the first half of his three score years and ten were gone within about 4 years of him having achieved them. Aspiration was one thing, but amongst the myriad things he had learned along the way to that corner office was what it took to earn that position, and being able to do that, to work successfully at that level, was in itself fulfilling; the trappings that came with the job didn’t matter. To aspire to something is one thing. To earn it is another, but to be entitled? No thanks.

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