Thursday, August 30, 2007

Where You Lead, I Will Follow

I was 23 when I had my first glimpse at a Title Snob. This gal joined a consulting group where I worked and she maybe had 10 years of HR experience (maybe). And I, the marketing girl, was in charge of mocking up all the business cards in Quark and upon presenting this chick with her mock business card for approval, she flipped out because her title read Director of Human Resources. The title the COO had bestowed upon her. No, she told me all smug. It needed to read Human Capital Strategist. I'm sure my eyebrow raised involuntarily and I stared her straight in the eye and said matter of factly, "Sure."

WHATEVER Human Capital Strategist meant in January 2001. I was 23 and this was my first job and I thought, what BS. Who cares? We know where you fall in the corporation's hierarchy. She wasn't even executive level material and she's obnoxious to go around changing her title a few days into her new HR role and talking down to everyone around her. This 'tude from a supposed leader? The hypocrisy was evident. And made even more painstakingly clear when in her first 3 months, she ran a lot of people out of the company and laid off 50-80 people.

Titles are merely labels and like any label, can pigeon hole us into behaviors and mindsets, whether good or bad. Often people make them up, focusing on the perceived value of the title - packaging themselves to be perceived as someone of greatness. As a marketing gal, I know perception (and packaging) is everything. I know if done correctly, this can be a positive card in your back pocket. How we present ourselves can open doors.

I've also seen it be a complete joke. Times when my Marketing Coordinator signature should have read Director of List Management. But more often than not, I witness titles that make me wonder, "What does that mean?" because they encompass a bunch of trendy words on a card, that mislead, or are relevant only in a particular industry, or are people's egos talking and - my bottom line here - the label doesn't mean squat when it comes to judging someone as a leader.

In my situation, I had hoped for a leader and quickly realized all the talk and titles meant nothing. I reiterate a few ideas that Ann Daly put forth in her Successful Artist newsletter on how to be a leader and my own peanut gallery commentary:

Create new ideas.
Ideas come from everywhere. Be open to them, write them down, embrace creativity.
Lead from where you are. You don't have to have the fancy title embossed on your card. And as I pointed out, even those that do, don't lead. Whether you're at the top, the middle or the bottom of the proverbial totem pole, exercise your experience, your skills, your charisma, your leadership.
Don't depend on your JD. Why would that boring job description say anything out of the ordinary? It never does. Do what you need to do/are supposed to do/are being paid to do and then go beyond it.
Build your own platform. I'm an example of this. Stop whining about being a victim of the dot com bomb (like me) and graduating at an inopportune time (like me) and take matters into your own hands. Seriously, there's a lot we DO have control over if only we get past ourselves and our bruised egos. Network, make friends, write blogs, comment, get involved and be engaged.
Ask for help. Let's not be the kids in class who are struggling and embarrassed to ask for guidance. There are mentors, newsgroups, blogs, social networks all here to connect us with others who are going through similar situations or have been there and can offer best practices.

I also suggest we don't take ourselves that seriously. I love when someone's title is Head Honcho. I know it isn't entirely professional, but it catches our attention, right? Makes us giggle a bit? I had Owner and Consultant on business card for a while I was so uncomfortable with such mainstream and pretentious verbiage, I had to change it. Of course, Creative Strategist was probably once like Human Capital Strategist! At least I can pay homage to what inspired me (see side bar).

In the meantime...lead, follow, observe. Be here now.

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