It amuses me when I hear leaders talk about the younger generation of Airmen and NCOs as entitled. Although, there is some truth to most younger generations being seen and acting as entitled; the Millennials really are viewed this way to the extreme that they are known as the ME Generation. The bad news: we created this entitlement mentality. The good news: we can fix it.
“…there is, as never before, an attitude on the part of young folk which is best described as grossly thoughtless, rude, and utterly selfish.” This sounds like something we have heard said in regards to new Airmen. However, this was written in a 1925 Hull Daily Mail article about our great-grandparents generation who became the “Greatest Generation.” Similar text can be found for all generations going back to Aristotle in the 4th century BC when he said, “They think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it.” There are hundreds of more sources you can find to further solidify the point this is not a new issue. All youth have been seen as entitled.
With that out of the way, why does this generation get pummeled even more? A 2014 Reason-Rupe Poll revealed 71% of American adults see millennials as selfish and 65% see them as entitled. My belief is this lopsided view is due to us being a part of the end of the industrial age where factory workers were replaceable cogs in a wheel who were expected to just do what they’re told. Now, we are part of the new Information Age where every laptop (or smartphone) with Internet connectivity can offer a worker an entire factory as Seth Godin says in his book Linchpin. Every industry’s status quo is being challenged by those like Amazon, UBER, Airbnb, and many more. The old models are proving less effective and this new generation knows it. They have great ideas and expect to be heard, but we are ignoring them.
Sure, there are suggestion boxes in every squadron and open door policies inviting innovation; however, we have all seen ideas squashed before they ever took root. As an Airman, I was told that I was not paid to think. A few ideas I had were completely ignored until a decade later when I became a SNCO. Same ideas were suddenly good. How does this create entitlement?
The old RHIP motto aids this mindset. The idea that Rank Has Its Privileges tells those coming up that their ideas are simply “cute” until they get real rank and that once they get that rank, they can live the life of privilege. In fact, I would be willing to argue that many supervisors feel entitled to get the perks that come with rank. I remember hearing someone asking a SNCO why he didn’t go and help an under-manned shop by doing the job of a SSgt or TSgt. His stated he wanted to, but if he did it would send the message that working to get promoted meant nothing because you’d still have to do the remedial work.
Another contributing factor to the “entitled” generation are helicopter parents. Many have complained about the participation medal concept and the helicopter parenting, but we have once again perpetuated this in our Air Force culture. We argue that most deserve more than a “promote” and still mark them to the far right offering our “participation medals” in the form of an EPR. In truth, most NCOs and Airmen want real-time feedback. This is our chance to reflect on what just happened and discuss the good and the bad of the situation. Most of us fail here. We either just say “good job” or we pass blame on their failure if we say anything at all.
“Helicopter parenting is not happening in my unit!” Really? Most NCOs are stating they want more responsibility and to get ownership of things that matter. However, SNCOs are notorious for clinging to the things that matter the most because we fear they will mess it all up and we we will have to do it over again. Sounds like a helicopter parent to me. This is the equivalent of telling my son to make his bed in the morning and then when he does it wrong, I just tell him he can’t handle it and I fix it for him. Rather, we need to offer the feedback of what is wrong and how to fix it.
Now, I am not going to blame everything on SNCOs, but wanted to offer a dose of reality. Especially, since most of us have experienced the same things as we were coming up and know we were not as prepared as we could be. It is up to us to kill this old model and challenge the status quo. It is up to us to offer meaningful feedback and opportunities to our teams so they can develop into the leaders we know they can become. It is up to us to right the wrongs of the past.
Are the youth of today of the entitled mindset? Bottom line: our teams are a reflection of us, so lead by example and project what you want modeled.
1925 article and Aristotle quote: https://generationalinsights.com/entitled-generation-if-so-millennials-arent-the-first/
Reason-Rupe Poll: http://reason.com/assets/db/14084333327480.pdf
Linchpin by Seth Godin: https://amzn.to/2KvTfp5