In organizations today much is made of a person’s title. As a result, not surprisingly, many people aspire to better titles and the status those titles seem to offer. Yet little power exists in having a title alone.
I once did a survey on my website about the reasons people had for acting as leaders. One woman replied, “I want to be Ruler of the Universe someday, and figure being a leader at my company is a good place to start.”
Her wry sense of humor underscores the appeal of titles; they suggest that one has achieved power, position, prestige, and privilege.
But are titles really that powerful? What does a title really confer?
An article that ran in The New York Times described a corporate communications officer at Amtrak whose title had been changed from “Vice President” to “Chief.” But the title change wasn’t the result of a promotion. When the company reduced the number of VPs from 85 to 10, he was given the new title to make him feel better – he was one of the select few in the company to hold such a position. What kind of impact did the new title have on the people under him? “It meant absolutely nothing,” the new Chief acknowledged.
Sometimes it is easier to give an employee an important-sounding title than pay him or her more (although, according to one survey, 85% of people would pass up a bigger title for a 10% increase in pay.) Marc Cenedella, president and chief executive of TheLadders.com, an executive job search site, says, “You’re never going to get hired based on your title, in and of itself. A job title’s more useful internally to your company and for how you feel you’re viewed.”
In other words, a title is not a job description. There are some things that a title can suggest, like having responsibility for others, and for getting results. It can’t, however, specifically define what a person does. Titles are broad brushstrokes.
Sometimes a title simply signifies a position on the organizational chart. As such, they can be useful in determining protocol. And titles can be helpful to outside salespeople and vendors seeking to find the right person to talk to. But they don’t always indicate who has the power to make a buying decision.
In fact, when it comes to true power, titles are frequently misleading. Even at the level of CEO, a company head who is disliked can be all but ignored by those under her or him, while an employee with a lower title can wield significant influence on what others do, and how quickly they do it.
It’s impossible for a title or an organizational chart to reflect all the many people who act as leaders, or exert leadership throughout the organization. I think of such people as “non-titled leaders.” They may or may not have direct responsibility to lead others, yet every day they influence and lead those around them, and in doing so, make the business stronger.
The bottom line is, influence and inspiration come from the person, not the position. The skills you develop–not the title you possess–are ultimately what make you a leader.
Mark Sanborn is an acclaimed speaker, bestselling author and award winning blogger who inspires leaders at every level to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.