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We Are Losing An Entire Generation With All The Best Intentions

The other day when I was about to fly from Amsterdam to Nice, where I live I experienced something that underpinned feelings I have had over a longer period of time.

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The nightmare boarding

When I entered the plane and got to my row I could see that there was a little girl about 5 years old sitting on my seat at the window. I told her first in English and then French that it was my seat and if she would be so kind to leave. Right after her mom who were putting stuff in the overhead compartment grabbed my arm and said her daughter wished to sit at the window. I told the mother that it was really not my problem and asked her to get her daughter out so that the boarding to continue. The daughter started to scream and yell after her mother told her something in Dutch. The girl didn't move until a flight attendant intervened. Needless to say it was a horrible flight to Nice with the mother in the middle seat and her daughter in the aisle seat.

The thing is I would happily had given her the window seat if the attitude had been different and I hadn't experienced a number of other incidents where other people's kids just don't know how to behave and where the parents think it is perfectly ok.

Safe home I started to reflect on this incident in a larger perspective.

I fly a lot - more than 150 flights a year - so I am pretty hardheaded when it comes to tolerating and accepting other peoples behaviour and I do have 2 grown-up kids myself who have been flying around the world with me since they were born.

The trend is that kids are becoming increasingly annoying to have around because an increasing number of parents are treating their kids as kings and queens who have unlimited freedom to do whatever they want wherever they want. The interesting question here is, WHY? Why do parents deliberately raise their kids in a way that without doubt will hurt them badly later in life?

And here is what I think. I tend to believe it is one of the many unfortunate side effects of economic wealth - a cultural change has happened. Maybe people with less money and less education are more aware of that it takes hard work to get somewhere. Maybe well-educated people with more money have got it all wrong. Because they are well-educated and financial well off they can plan their life exactly as they want. They can even decide when they want to have a baby. That baby becomes just another trophy on the shelf next to the nice jobs, suburban house and holidays to the French Riviera, where I happens to live. It seems like a vast number of these parents are afraid of parenting. I have friends with kids who are true servants to that little king or queen who is sitting in the sofa demanding services all the time because he or she can't tolerate not being the centre of the universe when adults are trying to have an adult conversation. When this happens I walk away.

One of the things I do in my life is teaching cross-cultural leadership, organisational behaviour and cultural change in emerging markets at several business schools and universities around the world. At the beginning of each course I always ask my students which grade they think they have right now. Students from emerged and developed economies predominantly believe they have an A, while students from less developed economies are far more humble. When I tell them that they have an F and that in my classes you are nobody until you have proven that you are somebody I get very different reactions ranging from "of course" to "you should be fired". Again there is a clear correlation with the culture and level of economic wealth the students are coming from. I see the same patterns when it comes to who are complaining over not getting an A at the end of the semester. It even becomes pathetic when the parents to the 21 year old students are complaining about the grades. The curling parents hang around till the end of their days.

When the students graduate and are ready to apply for jobs we would assume that they have finally learned to stand on their own feet? Well - NO!

A number of the companies we are working with in Gugin report that it is not uncommon that it is the parents who write the job applications like it is not uncommon that parents insist on participating in the job interview. That too is far more dominant in some cultures than others.

And the small kings and queens become the adult kings and queens. We get cultures of individuals who through out their entire childhood have been told and experienced that they can do whatever they like and that they don't have to mind other people at all. They become job applicants with unreal expectations about how much the start salary should be and unreal expectations to what it takes to get the job and remain in it.

In the extreme we create cultures of ultra-individualists who, when their curling parents can't remove all the obstacles on their way, may realise that they are totally incapable of managing their own life. They will get angry at their parents and punish them by not visiting them.

Meanwhile we have to figure out how companies should deal with these scores of selfish individualists with zero empathy or cultural intelligence. Hiring a monster is a bad decision. Hiring 100 of them can take down your company. So far we have come to the conclusion that developing the right corporate culture based on sustainable, long-lasting values is a way forward. Simply because you can use these corporate values as a reference for how well people fit in culturally. And we have to do it this way because everybody gets A's now

Endnote

By the way, here is a photo I took out of the window in the plane when I finally got my seat

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