Titles are not credentials. They help describe the responsibilities of an individual to facilitate success. The secret is that people decide what other people should be titled. It is in this unseen step that the train comes off the track. So, what do we do about it?
Only promote after the individual is acting in the role. Following this rule does two things. First, it instantly puts meaning into organizational titles. People that have them are not just sorting out how to be a leader or execute with new found skills and experience. If you are acting in the role, then no one questions when it is realized. This recognition creates a tremendous amount of support in the organization. It allows the leadership team demonstrate competence while fighting cynicism and cronyism. It also creates visible examples of the Company’s identity creating opportunities to guide, replicate and grow an organization.
Accept a title you are not ready for only if you have a plan on growing into the role. Titles are frequently incentives. If you negotiated a title at the start of your current job or were recently received a surprise promotion take pause. Knowing that you are stepping into a growth opportunity, you need to have a plan. What do you need to be successful? Who are your coaches or mentors? If you have are unable to pull together a plan, then you should not be in the role. It is much better to deal with that instead of faking it until you make it. People who pretend the part lose perspective and over time any hope for knowing authentically. Worse yet, they make awful leaders for others.
Do not confuse your title with an assessment of your ability to act. Conversely, do not be constrained by your title. The key is to focus on developing yourself and doing great work. People often confuse titles with permission. “I need to to be a manager to lead.” This idea is nonsense. Leading without authority is a much better skill to have. Titles are tools. If you do not know how to use them, they are dangerous.
Titles are words. Words convey ideas and actions change things. In my current Company, the topic of titles has come up many times. It is a small organization and people play many roles. What people are called is irrelevant mostly, but what they do is vital. The only titles we are careful with are customer facing individuals where a title facilitates peering. That sounds silly, but it is a critical part of interacting with other businesses. Everyone else can call themselves whatever they want in my opinion. If they are great at what they do, we celebrate that, not the words in their signature.
Focus less on what people call you and more on what you do. Others do not determine your arrival.