The coveted Chief title—Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operations Officer, etc.—can be found today in all reaches of business as a way to identify who is in charge. As companies named endless vice presidents in times past, lately Chief titles are taking over. And this practice isn’t limited to business. You’ll find Chiefs, Senior Chiefs, Deputy Chiefs, Administrative Chiefs, and Assistant Chiefs throughout government. With so many Chief titles out there, what does it really mean to be Chief?
Chiefs are powerful, but in my view not for the reasons most believe. Real Chiefs don’t owe their influence to a title or a position given to them by others.
It’s a Matter of Choice, Not a Title
Growing up, my dad would come home from work and tell us stories about what it really took to be Chief. He never used the word Chief, but his actions were clear.
My Dad was a mid-level personnel manager (human resources) working at the only non-union machine tool shop in central Massachusetts. Dad would tell me and my brothers about grievances, pay and benefit issues, and his challenge of connecting the managers at Heald Machine to the workers so the company could grow. In twenty-seven years at Heald, there was never even a single union vote. Why? Because my Dad treated everyone with respect and led without any positional authority.
I have benefited greatly throughout my career from the foundational lessons my Dad taught me. In the first phase of my career, I worked in one organization at a time. Over thirty years, I served in many roles in five organizations in five different industries. Early on I found myself consistently thrust into turnaround situations. Later, I sought them out. Success in each was due in large part to a specific roadmap that I used to enable Chiefs at all levels to unlock their potential. It’s an entirely new way to think about power, and where power really comes from.
As I worked my way up through these assignments, and I had the privilege of working with many strong individuals at all levels who possessed a power and influence that had nothing to do with their title or position, I came to understand that real Chiefs are people who connect what they do to who they are. Their power and influence come from inside.
Ten years ago, I made a personal decision to change my life-work balance. The nature of my turnaround assignments in phase one had taken a toll on the time I was able to spend with my family. I founded my own company, now Being Chief, LLC, as part of phase two. Now I work as a Chief supporting a limited number of Chiefs in different organizations. It is rewarding to serve others who can use my roadmap and guidance to help them grow as their organizations grow.
Anyone Can Be Chief
Conventional wisdom about Chiefs is all wrong. It says Chiefs are special. Chiefs are chosen. Chiefs have titles. And only those with the power and influence at the top can truly be Chief. In my humble opinion, another executive position in the already crowded C-suite is the last thing companies need.
I am less interested in your title than in the choices you make in life and business, and how those choices align with who you are. And I’m less interested in a company’s organizational chart than I am in its values and how it uses support, insight, discipline and creativity to engage its employees, shareholders, and community.
A real Chief doesn’t need a title, although she may have one. But it’s her actions, her words, her thoughts, and her values that show everyone around her that she’s Chief—and that enable others to also be Chief. What you and your organization do, rather than what you say you do, speaks volumes.
What we do need is more focus on the practices, skills, and tools required to enable all workers to be more agile in already top-heavy companies. And we need more investment in training, communication, and enabling technology that allows for broad decentralization, self-directed teams, and sustainable growth.
More Chiefs do drive better results, and we need many more of them. Just not in executive row. What are you doing to step up and be Chief?
Originally published at beingchief.com