Taking on The Almighty Title

What entices you to pick up the book? The title or the pages inside?
What’s the best part of the book? The title or the pages inside?
What determines if you read the book? The title or the pages inside?
What advances your life? The title or the pages inside the book?

What entices you to do business with a person? Their title or their performance?
What’s the best part of doing business with a person? Their title or their performance?
What determines if you trust a person’s competence? Their title or their performance?
What brings you value from a person? Their title or their performance?

Titles: A Love-Hate Relationship

Yes, I’m serious, and you may already know where I’m going with this controversial subject on the almighty “title.” I have a love-hate relationship with titles. Just as the above questions reveal, the title of a book and the title of a person have nothing to do with the impact either can have on a life. Yet, they have a lot of first impression “power” due to how society places so much importance on titles. We’ve been conditioned to make assumptions (good and bad) about a person because of the title they hold.

Think about it. What would you think if I introduced a person to you as the CEO or executive vice president of such-and-such a company. Now, what would come to mind if I introduced the same person to you as the company’s assistant or clerk? Is there a difference in how you would perceive this person’s ability and status based on their title? Of course there’s a difference, yet you don’t even know the person’s ability!

The title may be smoke and mirrors. We make our initial judgments based on the title, the cover, the clothes, the skin. Our title is no different than the latest name brand kids want to wear because it sends a message of style, status, and authority.

Can’t Live With ‘Em, Can’t Live Without ‘Em

This is a crazy phenomenon. Yet we live in a culture where it can’t be ignored. After all, as an outsider to your company, my confidence in you will be weakened if you don’t immediately convey competence. How do I quickly assess the leadership ability of the person I am dealing with? How do I know if the person is capable of taking care of my account? How can I be quickly be assured that I am dealing with the right decision maker? The person’s title helps me quickly make my own assessment. It’s a fast, easy, and acceptable way business people conduct business.  The title holds authority and respect, but only for the short term.

After interacting and dealing with the person I can then assess if their title is an accurate label for the person’s ability. After I experience the person’s competence and character, I don’t care about their title. I no longer identity them with their title; I identify them with their first name. The title may have caught my attention and short-term respect, but the person keeps or loses that respect shortly thereafter based on their ability, not their title.

Putting the Title to the Test

Though it may seem like my logic plays both sides of the fence, let me be clear: Does a person need a title? Yes, perhaps, if dealing with outside business opportunities. But does the title accurately assess abilities? Not always.

The bottom line is that a company uses titles correctly when they match the level of risk associated with the person’s job responsibilities, and you can determine that by asking two questions:

1) Does your title represent what you do and what you are responsible for?

2) If your title represents a level of responsibility and you fail at that responsibility, will you get fired?

If  the answer to  both questions is “yes,” then you have the right title.


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