As the author of a book titled You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader, you might mistakenly assume I’m against formal titles. I’m not. I have nothing at all against titles or those holding them, and I’ve even held a few myself. I just don’t believe that a title makes anyone a leader. Usually someone gets a title because he or she has demonstrated leadership ability, but the title only confirms leadership; it doesn’t bestow it. (Even then, a title might not confirm leadership ability, but more accurately reflect the responsibilities of the job.)
If my book were to have a second subtitle, it might be “But a Title Won’t Hurt You If You Use It Correctly.” Titles can be used well, or they can be used poorly. Here are some title do’s and don’ts to think about:
Understand the responsibilities that go with the title
The only thing more obtuse than a job description is a title. Titles are often vague. Most financial institutions have many VPs even though in some organizations there is only one VP.
Any legitimate title will confer more responsibilities than rights. You probably know what status your title bestows. Make sure you also understand the responsibilities and that come with it.
Is your title more honorary than substantive? What are the organizational and legal responsibilities that go with your particular title? Have you had that conversation with your boss? Is your boss able to clarify responsibilities conferred by your title beyond what is contained in your job description?
Clarify the expectations of those above and below you
Responsibilities are what you need to do to successfully fulfill your position or role. Expectations are what you need to manage to maintain the respect of those you work with.
There may be expectations people have of you because of your title that may or may not be fair or realistic. Does your attire reflect that perceived status of the title you hold? Is your demeanor commensurate with your title? Does your boss expect you to act, manage or lead differently because of your position on the organizational chart?
Having a title can be a good thing but it can make it easier to disappoint your colleagues who now have higher expectations of you.
Use it to position yourself with clients and vendors
Clients and vendors can benefit from understanding your title as it related to influence within your organization and decision-making ability. Titles are helpful in knowing who to go to for information, and who is empowered to represent and negotiate for an organization.
As a former sales professional, I can tell you how upsetting it is to find that the person who positioned him- or herself as a decision maker really isn’t. Deceitful or inaccurate positioning can be most frustrating to clients and vendors alike.
Feel good about the effort you invested to achieve it
Even if your title was given to you in lieu of a pay increase, you can still be justifiably proud of the effort you invested to receive it. Most titles are given for specific reasons, and unless your title is gratuitous, you should be proud of what it took you to attain it.
Most people are annoyed by others who put on airs and act superior, and this is one of the most frequent ways titles are abused. Reminding people of your importance because of your title is a bad idea. Demonstrating competence through your work is the most legitimate way to be recognized.
Use it as a threat
Using a title to threaten or coerce is also a no-no. Even if you have the power to be punitive, use it only in a worse case scenario. Threatening others with your position will quickly erode any real or perceived power that position might have bestowed.
Exaggerate its importance
As a small business owner, I’m always amused by titles like President or CEO when one is the only employee. While such a title might be legally appropriate, especially if one is incorporated, making a big deal out of the title is silly. People won’t be nearly as impressed with your title when they find out it is self-bestowed and that you’re the only employee.
Let it make you complacent
If you work within a large organization, don’t let your title create a false sense of security. You’ll need to keep getting better just to stay even in a competitive workplace. Titles aren’t job guarantees. Keep striving to improve your game.
Some of my favorite books in my personal library are those written 50 or 100 years ago. Since truth is timeless, I believe we can learn much from some of these classics. One idea I recently read was this: “Conduct yourself as a person ten times greater than you already are.” The author’s suggestion was to hold yourself to a higher standard of conduct and, in due time, you would become such a person. Regardless of your title, or lack of one, why not conduct yourself as if you were CEO? Don’t foolishly assume the power the CEO of your company has legitimately been given, but behave and perform as if you had that level of responsibility. Done appropriately, it would only help you increase your leadership ability in your current role.
Leaders use skills and abilities, not titles and status, to produce results. If you have a title, that can be a good thing, especially if you realize its value and use it correctly.