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.
CEO, The Professional Development Team