What Determines Your Worth - When You Let Your Work Title Over Take Who You Are
Updated: Feb 18
If you are a part of the corporate workforce you are very aware of the importance of a job title. Many people are more than willing to receive a "better" title in lieu of a raise. They are willing to do so because they know that more often than not the only way to move up in a company or get a better job is to have a really good title. CEO, CFO, VP, CIO, CTO, Controller, Director of_______, Executive Assistant to _______, these titles very often can be the only thing that gets your foot in the door. Because of this, it seems natural that people start to carry these very same titles out of the office and into their every day lives. Considering the fact that we spend more time either being at work or doing work related activities than we do spending awake time at home. Why wouldn't we find it difficult to transition from work to regular life.
For a lot of people, they feel that they have spent many years; whether it be in the classroom or their work-life earning their current position. For goodness sake, Presidents serve their term but they are still referred to as "President So-and-So. We as a society have been taught to respect someone's rank and with that respect very often comes deference.
But is that how it should be?
Ever since I entered the corporate work force I always struggled with the concept that someone's work title gave them the right to treat me as an inferior. Whether I was smarter than them or knew the business better than them, none of these things mattered. Automatically, they were inherently better equipped to handle a situation than me. But this was not always true.
I had a boss once who knew nothing about what it took to manage the location he had been put in charge of. For several months, not long after I got the job, I had been helping to run the location because there was no manager and the majority of the small staff left for various reasons. When he came in I offered up my expertise and even though he said he wanted it, his ego and his need to maintain his title was more than he could bear. So rather than rely on me to teach him the job he pushed back on me. He made mistake after mistake, Corporate was constantly reaching out to me to ask that I help him and as hard as I tried he was resistant. His resistance came from looking weak, and a fear of losing his job. After what felt like a long time banging my head against a wall but to no avail, I quit. Why did I quit? It was because I was tired of cleaning up his messes and secretly doing his job, and as hard as he worked to show me I wasn't necessary he was fired not long after I left.
His inability to humble himself and let his Admin show him the ropes lead to his own demise, and it was all because of titles. His need to show that he was top dog cost him the very position he lorded over his staff.
Throughout my years of being a part of the work force, I would constantly remind myself that who these megalomaniacs were at work had no value in the real world. The minute I no longer worked for that particular establishment their title no longer mattered. As true as this is, most people don't feel that way or they have to do what I did, which is remind themselves daily that they are not less than, simply because the person standing in front of them with a pretty title thinks they are.
This is a problem. Is it a problem all over the world? I don't know but I definitely know that it is a big problem in our capitalistic, corporation dominated society.
When The Title Sets The Tone For Treatment At Work -
We all know that person, whether it be a Manager, an Executive Assistant or a CEO; who is under the impression that their company has turned in to a monarchy and those that are B level and below are the serfs. They walk around consistently reminding you of their title. They usually make it a point to speak to those who are on the same level as them with a certain amount of respect, this respect never seems to be used for those that they do not see as peers. The support staff is very often questioned in regards to their decision making, and not always trusted. When you hear them speaking to or about someone on the same executive level as them their tone is softer, and far more amicable. Often they hold their support staff responsible for things that they would never hold their peers responsible for.
On the flip side, when a support staff member encounters the executive they automatically defer to their knowledge even when they know for a fact the executive is not correct. They treat the Exec as infallible, there by perpetuating the notion that they; the support staff member is some how lower. They are less likely to stand up for themselves when called to task for something they didn't do or something that could have never anticipated. They have a tendency to apologize in an almost subservient manner, or they take all of the blame even when they are not in the wrong.
If you were to ask the subordinate staff member would they allow themselves to be treated like that in their everyday life, more often than not you would receive a very emphatic NO! So why do they allow themselves to be treated at a place that IS their everyday life?
Because we all have a tendency to fall into the roles that are created for us. This goes for life, work, relationships. Unless we work hard to buck against our predesignated position we inevitably fall in line with the status quo. The problem with this is that over time, people stop treating each other with humanity. And I don't mean being falsely nice because it looks good or being patronizing to those we deem below us but I mean, seeing each other as we truly are; human beings.
These work determined construct of worth, can destroy a persons' sense of self-esteem. It can eventually lead to lower productivity and at times a blatant sense of rebellion. People rarely leave a job, they usually leave a boss. And it's very often not because the boss is completely incompetent but because the boss has bought into this idea that they are somehow superior to their employees. This superiority complex can be detrimental to everyone.
Here's a quick little yes or no quiz that you can take for fun -
IS YOUR BOSS SUFFERING FROM A SUPERIORITY COMPLEX? — HERE’S A TEST TO FIND OUT FOR SURE:
When The Title Goes To A Persons Head In Everyday Life -
This happens far too often. Without realizing it people can let their work identities become their life identities and they may not even realize it.
They don't have to tell anyone that they are Dr. So-and-So, everything about their demeanor lets people know how important they are, or they think they are. And in some cases, they will not hesitate to tell you who, and what they do for a living. This is meant to ensure a specific sort of reaction from you. Typically that reaction leads to you giving them privileges that most people would not receive.
I'll never forget when my ex took me out for Valentine's day one year. The line was long and he hadn't made a reservation. So instead of either trying to find another restaurant or getting in the back of the line, he proceeded to flash his police badge and request to be seated.
What should have happened - He was told that he would have to wait in line like the rest of everyone else or leave.
What happened - we were quickly ushered into the restaurant and given a table.
I could have said something because I was definitely embarrassed but in my 22-year-old ignorance, I didn't know what to do. But that act of aggressive "My Title = King" stayed on my mind to this day and that was about 22 years ago!
We all know that person, or you may be that person. If you're that person I get it; you've worked hard to get where you are and you're proud of your accomplishments so naturally it bleeds out.
But here's the problem - you're really not that special! Yes, to your friends and family you have hung the moon and stars but to everyone else, you are just a person. Once you start believing that your individual accomplishment puts you on another level, you have officially become "that guy".
If you start to treat your everyday life like you treat your work life, who will you be once you lose your job?
That becomes a hard question to answer honestly if you have invested all of yourself into a temporary state of being. Lest you forget, every company has a bottom line and you are only as valuable as you are necessary.
Companies get bought and sold, downsize, move, fold, etc. all the time, and when that happens if you have created a situation where you can no longer separate who you are outside of work from who you are at work you will struggle if the job is gone.
If you have a hard time imagining who you are without the title behind your name, try this little exercise:
You wake up one morning, your phone alarm hasn't gone off. Siri doesn't respond when you call her name and neither does Alexa. You rise from your bed and you look around, nothing seems to be amiss but everything feels different. You grab the tv remote to check the news and it doesn't work. You remember you had put fresh batteries in it 2 days ago so that can't be the problem. You reach for the light switch and nothing happens. You start to slowly walk through your house all the while realizing that nothing electronic works. With a big breath, you push the front door open and you see all of your neighbors on the street. Some look as confused as you, but you notice off to the side that the neighbor down the street who works for the Mayor's office has stepped on top of a chair and is proceeding to gather everyone around him. You fall in line with the rest of the stragglers and you join the semi circle in front of him.
For the next 15 minutes, he proceeds to tell you that something has happened to the world as a whole and the electricity is gone. It won't be coming back up and the government as you know it has been reduced down to the local level. Because of this jobs will be reassigned based upon communal needs.
QUESTION: Who you were yesterday has ceased to exist - So Who Are You Now?
Take a minute and think about that, if you can't find an answer outside of your own name and the job title you hold. Then you have gone so far down the rabbit hole you need to take stock of who you used to be, who you want to be as a human; not a worker bee and start remembering that all of this is tenuous at best.
Can We Change This Cultural Norm? -
Many companies have come to realize how detrimental titles can be, so some companies have decided to move away from titles. For the most part, it has been very successful. The below company did, and the results were extremely positive.
Neither Entitled Nor Titled: Why We Have No Titles at Gusto
We really cared about the clarity part, but not the other half. During the meeting, Eddie Kim took a provocative stance to kick off the discussion, “What if we got rid of titles completely? I don’t need to be called ‘CTO.’”
In that meeting, we realized: Titles are not needed at Gusto today. They’re not a measurement of someone’s contributions. They don’t make us stronger, wiser, or bring us closer to achieving our mission. In fact, titles were adding extra layers and points of confusion.
So we decided to test it out. Inside that conference room, the leadership team made a commitment to get rid of titles, and at the same time, everything that a handful of letters represented. A few conversations and a company-wide communication later, our titleless office became real.
It is possible to do but it takes work and most of the work will be on the part of the executives. If you are starting with a traditional company and you trying to move away from the norm into a title-less company the executives need to be the first to remove the mantle of their title. They need to lead the charge, humble themselves and show the company as a whole that this is an important step forward.
This is not as easy as you read from Gusto. It takes planning, a real want for change and it is slow going, but it is manageable.
What Would It Look Like If We Did -
That is a good question and not one that has an easy answer. Keep in mind that change is necessary, once you become stagnant you become dead. Ideas aren't always successful but what corporate America has a tendency to do is hold on to something long past its expiration date and when challenged, they push back with a message of "that's how we always did it".
Even the innovative companies still hold on to their ideas with tight fists not realizing that the people who suffer the most are their employees and when your employees suffer your customers suffer.
Would it hurt to try it? Removing the titles, stripping everyone down to their contributions and placing them where they can contribute best? If you ask someone in HR they would tell you that is what the interview process is for but the standard interview process is so antiquated that very often you lose out on good people who would really want to do what they are passionate about and are good at rather than having a job because they need a job. Why is that? Because titles pigeon hole you.
Once you eliminate the need for titles you start to utilize people for what they do best. When we are all peers working in a collective group sharing ideas and working towards solutions together, you take out the nervous energy that comes with interacting with a CEO, CFO, CIO, Senior VP, and the like.
Imagine working at a company that simply says - we hired you because we like what you can do, lets all work together so that we can meet the same goal. Your salary, job title, and office do not define you; you define you.
Sound silly? Well at some point so did open floor plans at work, so did letting women become more than secretaries and so did equity in the workplace. You can't affect change if you don't make a change.
Last Words Of Advice -
Who you are today was not who you were yesterday and it won't be who you are tomorrow. Never let another persons' definition of you define who you see in the mirror and who you present to the world.
Because that boss that makes your stomach drop when they walk in the room will only be a soundbite in the story that is your life.