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What’s the big deal about a title?

August 9, 2010

Titles don’t mean a whole lot in today’s world. In the age where a boutique diploma can often be bought with a click of a button and exaggerating on one’s resume seems to be the norm rather than the exception, it’s hard not to be jaded by the number of over-inflated titles one sees. Now, perhaps my jaded-ness in this regard comes from living in the Washington, D.C. area where lobbyists and “consultants” of all stripes seem to be able to pick up as many as a dozen titles in the course of the week, depending on what suits.

I hadn’t thought too much about titles lately, until this recent Twitter query about why I’d chosen the title social media maven, which has graced my Linked In profile, Twitter bio, and even professional correspondence.

Titles became a big deal in my last job, when I started to be referred to as a director and a resource manager decided my GS pay grade was too low for a title generally reserved for a Gs-15 who had spent decades in federal service. It didn’t stop folks from referring to me as a director, but it did make me think twice about the focus on titles, how they’re earned, and what they mean. (It was later determined that manager was fine, and didn’t imply the same ranking that director did – I still don’t understand the difference, personally).

In federal service, titles are generally attached to specific positions rather than specific individuals or performance. If you attain a certain GS-ranking and designation you’ll be a supervisor, which may incur a title, or may not. In the civilian and contracting sector, titles take on shift-shaper status – depending on where you’re on contract or which office you find yourself, you could be jumping into any number of titles or roles, and the rules as to age or years in service become much more irrelevant.

Not long after director was deemed an inappropriate title, I started simply making-up titles to suit the situation. Which was definitely much more interesting, and also much more fitting. When you’re working in social media, specifically, and especially when you’re forming a new program and laying a framework that hasn’t been established, you’re really taking on a different role every day. Some days I was the chief evangelist for social media. Other days I was the chief blogger, content manager, senior strategist, or director-in-charge-of-email-forwarding. But the only title that ever really suited – and that I eventually put on my business cards – was Social Media Maven.

A maven is defined as ” a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass knowledge on to others.”  That’s certainly what I was looking to do in my last job, and while my career has always been more broadly focused on communications in general, in my last job I was definitely a maven in a social media capacity. The term fit, and it always seemed to have a nice ring to it. And the yiddish slang never seemed to offend anyone in leadership – that or they just never took me seriously when I said it.

In the end, titles aren’t all that important. I don’t think they do much at all in a workplace construct, other than hopefully motivate employees to perform at the expected level. If you expect very little of someone, pay little attention to their title – it will set up the expectations of those who work with them well, and set the standard for their scope of work. But if you expect a lot of someone, don’t hesitate to place them into the title that fits.

I think we all have a title that suits our skills, and that will motivate us at the task at hand. Got a great title you’d love to share? Let me know!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 9, 2010 2:55 pm

    Hmm. Did you choose the title, maven, because you liked it — or because other people liked it? I find it odd a stereotypically strict bureaucratic organization such as the Army would enable its employees to create their own titles.

    • August 12, 2010 6:15 pm

      Ari – I chose it because if you note the definition, it’s remarkably fitting for the kind of work I’m doing.

      Most are also surprised to find out that the Army is engaging in social media at all, let alone creating positions for it – you’d be surprised at how progressive the military can be!

      Thanks for commenting,


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