x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Job titles matter – and here’s why

The Life: Your job title is important, but not for recognition. Rather it signals where the focus should be and what others should expect from you.

Illustration by Lee McGorie / The National
Illustration by Lee McGorie / The National

Any leadership career is full of transitions from one level to the next as reflected in the evolution of titles - and it is imperative to understand what your title means.

For example, if you are the senior manager of marketing, are you employed as a senior manager or as a marketer?

Depending how you answer this and what you fundamentally believe about it reveals your readiness for your leadership level.

When we parse a title, one part (the senior manager) says what our role is, while the other aspect is the discipline or technical area.

So, in this example a senior manager of marketing is first and foremost a senior manager.

A few weeks ago, I watched as a well-accomplished senior manager (head of department) realised what he should be doing versus what he was doing. He confessed in front of the other department heads at his company that his focus had been on the deliverables not on leading managers, his actual role.

It is not surprising that his focus has been on the deliverables given that is usually what earns a promotion into the senior management ranks. Let's walk through a typical leadership career.

To understand an organisational leader's mindset, we need to go back to high school, specifically around the age of 15 or 16 as this is when most students decide they want to go to university.

Now, mum and dad may well have decided this long before, even before their child was born.

For the sake of illustration, let's name our future leader Adam.

So, who is it that decides he wants to go to university? It is Adam. Then, who works harder? Adam. Who gets the recognition for the hard work? Adam.

This goes on until graduation, when who graduates? The parents or the teachers? No, again it is Adam.

This pattern continues for university as well. Adam applies to university and hopefully gets accepted. Then after performing well, he is recognised with praise from others. After he graduates, a party is thrown to celebrate his achievement.

We are now several years into building the behaviour under which personal accomplishment brings recognition.

And the individual recognition and reward continue in the workplace. Adam enters the job market by applying for jobs; again he is doing the work and effort. Eventually he lands a coveted job.

Then this pattern accelerates as he works hard and his boss recognises it with accolades, bonuses and eventually a promotion.

Then one day it all changes. After somewhere between a minimum of eight to 10 years individual efforts being recognised, he gets promoted to be a front-line manager and guess what? He still values the individual achievement that his success was built on and as a result struggles as a leader.

The first substantive transition leaders need to make is from valuing individual achievement to valuing the success of your direct reports individually and collectively - and then to leading managers, to business leadership and ultimately enterprise leadership.

Your title does matter, but not for recognition.

Rather it signals where the focus should be and what others should expect from you.

Your title tells everyone that your career is about others achieving and that you find your success through their success.

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, an adviser and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center