Entitlement and Illegality | AccountingWEB

Entitlement and Illegality

If you haven't read Scott Heintzelman's blog today, you should do that.  It's a great story about what one successful family-owned business is doing to fight an attitude of entitlement among their younger generation.  They are giving lessons in leadership, character, and service.  And they are doing that through demonstration (this works) rather than lectures (which people tune out.

This really caught my eye for two reasons.  One was the statement that they are concerned mostly with character and not business knowledge.  There is a large and ongoing debate about whether character and morality can be taught,.  Susquehanna University, where I teach, has leadership, service, and achievement as the three legs of its approach.  The AACSB (an accreditation achieved by a small portion of all business schools) debates whether ethics should be taught in stand alone courses or embedded throughout the curriculum. Though we all accept that character is vitally important, no one knows the beast way to accomplish that goal.  Still, even though the best means of teaching character has not been settled, two things are well accepted. 

  • While colleges must do what we can, the best time to teach lessons in character is while a person is quite young (business knowledge, on the other hand, can wait till much later)
  • A position of power can lead to corruption, but does not necessarily do so


Recent experiments have delved more deply into the relationship between power and corruption.  What they have shown is that people with both a position of power and a sense of entitlement have a significantly greater tendency to be corrupt (defined as having higher standards for others than for themself--essentially being hypoctites);  those who have the power but not the sense of entitlement do not.  In contrast, they tend to hold themselves to a higher standard than others

So these family business owners are doing something very important not only for their children but also for their business and for society.  Corruption is often the beginning of the end for a business, and society functions best when businesses are healthy.

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Barbara McElroy is Associate Professor of Accounting and Head of the Department of Accounting and Information Systems at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA.  Before beginning a career in academe, Barbara worked in both public and private accounting settings, and owned several businesses.  She is particularly interested in the interaction of accounting and public policy.  Barbara will discuss current events with the interest of students, faculty, and practicing professionals in mind.

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