“Titles Don’t Mean Anything.”

...and Other Works of Fiction

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When it comes to titles, the boss who can't say "no" is doing no one any favors.

I once worked with someone who’d mete out promotions to anyone who asked, usually regardless of merit or potential. This person wanted to be best friends with everyone on the team.

Like the parent who’s afraid to tell off their child for throwing food in a restaurant, the boss who can’t say “no” is doing no one any favors.

Naturally, this promote-anyone-who-asks approach would ruffle the feathers of those on the team who were working hard, but who were making less noise about it. What annoyed everyone concerned though, was that immediately following the announcement of a new title, the boss would quickly say “Of course, titles don’t mean anything,” – thus losing the sympathies of even the person being promoted.

So why give out title bumps at all?

Needless to say, this wasn’t a healthy work culture.

But titles are a loaded issue pretty much everywhere. Who gets the good ones? Based on what criteria? Only in review season, or beyond? For whom are exceptions to “no-title-changes” rules made?

The fact is this: titles do matter. People do care. And good leaders know that, even if they personally don’t think much about titles, people around them do – and you can bet your next boss will be looking at your titles thus far and making assumptions accordingly.

If you’re a leader of any description, the chances are you’ve been asked about titles at some point in your career – or have been subject to whispers about your own. Bestow new titles when merited, not because you can’t say no.

Ellie Hearne is a leadership-communications expert and CEO & Founder of Pencil or Ink. Over the years she has advised leaders at Google, Apple, Marriott International, Morgan Stanley, and numerous small businesses and startups. She has also led teams of her own. Ellie can be reached here, here, and here.

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