Thought leader Simon Sinek says that one of the things that businesses experience when they hire younger workers--Millennials and Gen-Zers--is dealing with the results of a failed parenting experiment. In other words, it's difficult for people to talk responsibility and accountability with young people who have been told how amazing they are for their entire lives. It is especially hard when performance doesn't meet the standards and a manager needs to deliver a difficult coaching message.
If you've witnessed this kind of behavior in the workplace and want to find a better path for your children, you're in luck. It turns out there is a time-honored technique to help your children grow into responsible adults. It all comes down to helping them understand that their decisions have consequences.
Building responsible adults
The key to building a sense of responsibility in people comes from recognizing that every decision they make has consequences--good and bad. That's why it's so critical for people to understand this at a young age.
For example, when my children were younger, they were never thrilled whenever I asked them to tackle a household chore like cleaning their room. They would usually say, "We don't want to."
I would then reply, "OK."
That would result in their giving me a funny look before saying, "What do you mean, OK?"
"Well," I would say, "You must be ready to accept the consequences of not cleaning your room. It's fine if you don't want to. But if you don't, you don't get any TV time tonight."
Not surprisingly, they usually cleaned their rooms.
Do what you say you're going to do
The first time I ever presented this bargain to them, they decided to test my resolve. Like all parents, I don't want to make my kids' lives difficult. But if you're going to teach them that their decisions have consequences, you must be willing to follow through on your promises.
It's funny to think back to my childhood when my dad, who was a big-hearted and kind man, would threaten me with wild punishments--like hitting me with a belt studded with rusty nails and coated in snake venom. Punishments that I knew he would never follow through on (for the record, he never did).
But in the case of my children, I was fully ready to unplug the TV or the game counsel to help them understand the weight of their decisions.
The first time they failed to clean their room, they were forced to stare into an empty screen that night. An evening without their favorite entertainment changed the conversation the next time around.
And you know what happened? Every time after that, when they were asked to clean their rooms, they didn't hesitate to act. Getting that screen time later at night was too important to give up.
The good news is that the idea that their decisions had consequences carried on throughout their lives as they grew into adults. From studying for tests or doing homework, it didn't matter--they began to recognize that every action, or inaction, they took had consequences they had to learn to live with. If you were ready to accept the consequences of an action, you could proceed. As the criminals say, "Don't do the crime if you can't handle the time."
Opening up possibilities
There's also a corollary in that kids need to learn that their decisions can create--or limit--the kinds of options available to them in life. If you do your homework and get good grades, for example, you open the number of colleges you could attend. Or, by studying more and drinking less beer in college, you might open more career opportunities for yourself. Better jobs then open more possibilities regarding where you can live and what kind of lifestyle you can enjoy.
Unfortunately, not everyone learns this lesson early on. I'm reminded of a young man who came to me for career coaching. He was raised in a wealthy family and never had to face the consequences of his decisions. As a result, he never learned how he was limiting his future options in life.
For instance, he had decided not to attend college and traveled (and partied) overseas for several years instead. When he returned home, he took one of the only jobs available to him, as a salesperson--but soon quit because he didn't like how his manager was challenging him to perform better. Yes, salespeople are expected to sell, sorry.
From his standpoint, he should be selling top-of-the-line luxury products, hobnobbing with the rich and famous, and living a high life as a result. He was, of course, acting in a delusional and entitled way.
I found myself in an unfortunate position of trying to coach someone who had, through their decisions, severely limited the kinds of career options they could explore. The best advice I could give him was to either head back to school or become a great salesperson. I was frustrated and disappointed that I couldn't help him more.
Don't wait--start now
If you want to give your kids lots of options to create happy and productive lives for themselves, teach them early on how every decision they make has consequences. Hopefully, learning to delay gratification early in life will teach them to earn the right for the kind of life they would like to live. It works for employees too!
They'll thank you in the end, no matter how painful it might be to deny them something in the moment.