Some people take their job titles very seriously. After the American Revolution, the fledgling USA struggled to fill the hole left by the monarchy. It was understood that George Washington would head the new federal government, but no-one was quite sure what to call him. Serious suggestions put forward in congress included His Mightiness, His Magistracy, His Supremacy and His Highness the Protector of the United States and of their Liberties.
In the end, the Americans settled on the more modest, and democratic, President of the United States, but that was far from the end of the matter. Washington himself insisted on being referred to as your Excellency, and his wife as Lady Washington. One of his closest friends said publicly that America seemed to have swapped George I for George III.
In fairness to Washington, he was very aware that he was the first President, and understood that he was setting precedents which would last for decades, even centuries. He wanted to establish the dignity of his new office, but it is hard to think that he wasn’t also interested in his own dignity. After all, throughout his presidency Washington insisted that everybody remain standing in his presence.
Of course, it is easy for us to scoff at people who lived hundreds of years ago, but how different are we? We’ve all felt that rush when we see our new job title written across a business card, flush with a sense of pride and achievement. We also all know people who have titles completely out of sync with their actual duties. At least George Washington was President.
Most people have heard stories about Colonels promoted to General, just to get them out of the way, or CEOs who move from company to company continually leaving chaos in their wake. The same sort of thing happens on a smaller scale, we meet Global Directors of Strategy who don’t do much but golf, and Office Executives who are integral parts of the wider operation.
You can look on LinkedIn and see that the more grandiose someone’s job title is, the less information they feel they need to provide about what they actually do. Whereas people with simpler titles will often go into great detail about their roles, almost as if they feel the need to justify themselves, to prove that what they do is important.
Underwater Ceramic Technician?
The real-world implications of this are often brushed off with jokes about the New York receptionist who revelled in the title Director of First Impressions, East Coast. The BBC once published an article of several of the best, such as the bin-man who was known as an Environmental Maintenance Executive. Or perhaps you prefer the dishwasher entitled Underwater Ceramic Technician? How about the job advert posted in Canterbury for Eviction Technicians (nightclub bouncer), the window-cleaner who advertised himself as a Transparent Wall Eminence Engineer or the dinner lady known as Refreshment and Nutrition Supervisor?
You might smile, but we have all met people with ridiculously inflated designations. Meanwhile other companies, indeed entire industries, treat job titles with utmost seriousness. So where does that leave us? What is the point?
People now move from organisation to organisation, even from industry to industry, in a way that was unthinkable even a couple of generations ago. If they move from a workplace where titles are accurate and meaningful, to one where the person who makes the tea is Their Magnificence the Director Overseeing Hydration Fulfilment, EMEA then confusion is bound to ensue.
Over the years I have met, managed and mentored countless people who are fixated on their job title. Their self-worth wrapped up in it in the same way other people balance their ego on their salary. My view is that people are often better off not giving their job title, but instead explaining what they are responsible for in a simple, concise sentence. This ensures that that the person you are speaking to isn’t immediately casting judgement on you because of a job title.
Certainly, we all need to stop thinking our job title somehow equates to our importance and value, and we need to stop judging other people by the same standard. The next person you meet at a function might not have the sort of title that makes them sound like they rule an empire, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t invaluable. After all, the Head of Mi6 is simply known as M!