There is No Free Lunch

[May 24, 2018]  If you are reading this article, then odds are you’re a leader in some capacity and are interested in learning how to improve your skills.  You’ve also heard that there is no such thing as a free lunch and while that applies to everyone, it especially applies to leaders.

If you expect a free lunch as a leader, then you are not a good leader; neither efficient and effective at what you do and probably unethical too.  “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”  My old Platoon Sergeant used to say this to me and that if I was looking for something for free, it was not worth it and would probably get me into trouble.

He was right.  The best things in life are not free.  The greater the challenge, the higher the chances of failure, the more difficult something is to obtain, the greater we place value where it should be.  One of the most desired possession a person can have is their freedom and people are willing to do anything to obtain it.  There’s an old saying that, “Freedom is not free.”

Economist Milton Friedman does a good job of explaining the free lunch myth; that somehow or another that government can spend money at the expense of no one.  Review a video on a speech he gave on this myth (see YouTube video, 7:07 minutes, link here).  As he says humorously, there is no Santa Claus.

People who expect handouts are not respected and while that is unfortunate but it is also true.  If you do expect to get something for nothing as a leader, then folks will pick up on your intentions.  You will lose their respect because it becomes clear that you want special treatment just because you are a leader.

Many senior leaders make it a personal policy of theirs to never accept, for free, any good or service from anyone.  Those leaders pay for what they receive and pay for it at its fair market value.  This keeps their career intact and there is never any accusation of graft or corruption.

Anything short of this shows a deep character flaw.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

31 thoughts on “There is No Free Lunch

  1. Lynn Pitts

    Yep! No free lunches. Gee, you might have to earn it. I know that is a foreign concept to our young people but just suck it up and drive on.

    1. Ronny Fisher

      Only the strong survive. Thank you Lynn Pitts for your strength-building advice.

  2. Dennis Mathes

    Early education works best. If you reach adulthood and don’t know this, you are in for a rude awakening.

  3. Tony B. Custer

    There are cultural differences where this is acceptable. Of course, those cultures are often in socialist nations and in part explains why they are never prosperous.

  4. Albert Ayer

    I was once in Africa to help out on a clean water project. All I ever heard about was “what can you give me today.” I was in Nairobi, Kenya and several other locations around the country. From speaking with other engineers, that appeared to be the sentiment in Subhadra Africa.

  5. Joey Holmes

    Even I know better as a kid. Cheers from Australia.

  6. Jonathan B.

    Very entertaining comment section today. Thanks everyone for their interest in this topic as I am.

  7. Shawn C. Stolarz

    I am always looking for ways to make myself a better leader and better husband and father. This is one lesson that I regularly teach to my kids but I don’t see it in my community being taught. All I hear is be “more compassionate.”

  8. Martin Shiell

    I like the idea that many professionals have set up their own personal philosophy to never accept gifts (except those that are symbolic). Gifts can be a variety of things and many that cost money will get you into trouble. Of course, sexual favors will do the same. Thanks for a great article today Brig Gen Satterfield.

  9. Bryan Lee

    Good comments today. I would like to add that I see (and I am biased) more and more people looking for “free stuff” that is paid for by the govt. Of course, the govt is us taxpayers. How sad that a person would lower themselves to that point.

  10. Joe Omerrod

    If you’ve never been to a hospital emergency room, I want to tell you something surprising. About half those that come to the ER do not need to be there. Hospital policies and often state law requires us to treat anyone who walks in the door regardless of insurance or any other reason. This drives up our costs as poor people abuse the system most frequently by coming in for their “free lunch” medical treatment.

  11. Dale Paul Fox

    Last night I went to a political townhall where my neighbors and I were allowed to ask questions of several state-level politicians. What I found disheartening (other than the ignorance and rudeness of some of my neighbors) was that nearly everyone who spoke was asking for some special dispensation from the government. Either elderly rebates, more veterans benefits, reduced taxes (that one is okay in my book), or some combination. They were mostly looking for a “free lunch”. Where they didn’t want to approach their local government to reduce property taxes, they wanted the state politicians to tell them to. Generally, I saw a real lack of moral courage to do the right thing.

    1. Eric Coda

      You should not have been surprised. When you go to more of these you will find this a common sentiment among the population. They are always looking for free stuff.

    2. Janna Faulkner

      Don’t be surprised by what you find at these meetings. Often they bring out the dregs of our society.

    3. Danny Burkholder

      Thanks Dale Paul for updating us on townhalls and the people that come out for them to complain about minor issues.

  12. Billy Kenningston

    Thank you for a good article.

  13. Watson Bell

    Nice start to the day for young people who need a bit of good advice. Thanks.

  14. Wilson Cox

    I discovered this idea of “no free lunch” when I was 12 years old; much to my personal dismay. But that moment was crucial to my long-term success in business and in personal relationships. I expect no gifts, services, or special favors from anyone (other than my wife). It goes a long way toward happiness when you aren’t disappointed when others don’t deliver.

  15. Mr. T.J. Asper

    I try to teach my boys this very idea and while some get the concept right away, it is not easy to convince young boys who have been given everything their entire lives. This is, of course, part of growing up and I teach them the keys to manhood.

  16. Army Captain

    Good point, Gen Satterfield. I have the same personal policy not to accept anything from anyone. My men know it and I make it clear. However, I do give them things that they deserve, like rewards and on occasion, I buy some “US ARMY” hats and give them out for those who perform well.

    1. Doug Smith

      Thank you for your service (and I mean it) and for your reaffirming what Gen Satterfield has to say.

    2. Eddie Ray Anderson, Jr.

      Thanks for your service.

  17. Drew Dill

    If you go to Starbucks Coffee houses, you don’t get a free lunch (or coffee) there either. Starbucks, like any other liberal/progressive business, is about business and not about compassion. There is truly no free lunch. For those who think otherwise, I have a bridge here in the Eastern US that I want to sell you.

    1. Roger Yellowmule

      I don’t drink their coffee anymore because of their political stance. Starbucks CEO … get out of politics and you might get more customers.

    2. Max Foster

      Same here. I no longer by coffee at Starbucks. Sometimes I think their CEO is trying to tell people like me to give more “free lunches” to the poor or to anyone he believes deserves my money. He can go stick it and spend his dollars. While we’re at it, let the poor come live in your mansion. Bet not.

    3. Mark Evans

      I agree. The Starbucks CEO and his liberal friends need to lead by example and take in more poor people and thus give them a free lunch.

    4. Georgie M.

      Come on folks, this is not about compassion or fairness, its all about money and power. More than anyone else, the Starbucks management knows what side their bread is buttered on.

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