Titles and Leadership

            Chris Hayes with MSNBC was admonished for his reluctance to attribute the term “hero” to a fallen soldier.  While my own views on this subject are strong, I will refrain from espousing my emotional reaction.  Instead, I will turn this moment into an opportunity to delve into titles or terminology. I believe Mr. Hayes’ point was to highlight the automatic assignment of phrases towards people that may or may not be appropriate.  Are all fallen soldiers heroes? Did they perform a heroic act that led to their death?  In my own eyes, anyone who chooses to serve this country and gives his or her life, in combat or otherwise, serves a higher purpose to protect us all, and that is heroic.  What about titles or names used in business? Do we apply the same sort of blanket phraseology like soldier = hero, CEO = leader? I think we do, and it may not be right. 

            In society we rely on titles to signify rank and social class.  This is nothing new today versus thousands of years ago.  Titles give us a sense of purpose and roles within life. For example, my title of “mother” has certain expectations, authority and pride associated with it.  I know what I am supposed to accomplish as a mother.  I know what my family (and society for that matter) demands of me as a mother. What about “CEO”?  This is my title for my business. The stresses and requirements for this role are much different than those as a mother.   Chief Executive Officer, along with other common titles, indicates a level of responsibility, authority and hopefully a measure of respect.  I feel that it is the level of respect bestowed on a person that defines their performance as a leader.  Respect is earned, and cannot be taken; it is given by those following the leader. However, respect can be lost quickly and must be rebuilt slowly, if ever.

            The application of titles brings us back to an earlier blog I wrote about positional authority.  Many business leaders with high-profile titles earned the rank through hard work, time and effort.  In this sense, the application of a title to a person probably means he or she is an inspiration to the workforce. However, senior leaders must watch out for those people who use their titles like weapons – throwing around big roles like Director or Manager or even VP or President without consideration or thought. Wielding a title or a position of power as the sole basis for goal accomplishment (instead of teamwork or coordination) can diminish the trust given to that person or office.  Leaders with significant titles should take the responsibility seriously and use their authority sparingly. 

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team



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  1. #1 by Thomas Guettler on May 30, 2012 - 3:00 pm

    Great post Lori. It made me think back to some books I have read related to World War II. There are plenty examples of a freshly pressed second lieutenant who is leading a platoon of soldiers on the battlefield. However, he may be inexperienced, whereas the sergeant of the platoon is battle hardened and has survival skills. In some instances, the new officer would attempt to forcefully inject his authority, but when the bullets started to fly, the regular soldiers would look to the sergeant for true leadership. Clearly in these examples, titles meant nothing when work was to be done.

    In a business, a new CEO, or management level position, may attempt to inject their authority on the organization, but their authority may be on paper only, or the workers may simply go through the motions, knowing that directives will not work or are faulty. In my mind, you obtain titles on paper, but need to gain authority through gaining the respect of all others though. In the end, someone may be in authority but they not be much of a leader. Someone may not be in authority, but may be a true leader. Management and leadership are often intertwined, but not always deserving so. Power of position is granted via job hierarchy, but respect of leadership is earned. I agree with your points and love this post.

    • #2 by The Professional Development Team on May 30, 2012 - 3:33 pm

      Tom, just for the fun of discussion I have a question for you. If you are a subordinate in a situation where a leader is “injecting authority”, what is your advice on how to handle the situation or respond to the leader?

      • #3 by Thomas Guettler on June 1, 2012 - 10:32 am

        I have a tendency to look inward in those situations. If a leader has the authority in their job description, unless it is illegal or against policy, I would follow their instructions because at the end of the day they have the positional power. It does not mean I would respect them as much as I could. Through my upbringing, I take my responsibilities very seriously, and in this situation, I try to do the best that I can. The leader or manager may not be qualified competent, but I take the approach that if I work hard, I may be noticed and stand out, which can be its own reward down the road. However, it would be difficult to go the extra mile and make that individual look good, but if they look bad to the organization, those who are under them will also look bad. In the end, it can be a very frustrating situation, one which I have been lucky to have not been part of many times.

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