Seven Truths about Titles!

How important is a title? I suppose it depends on the ego, personal security and emotional maturity of the person holding it. Occasionally, we all get the opportunity to reveal our level of development in these three arenas, just as California Senator Barbara Boxer did in a recent exchange with a witness before her committee. Here’s how it went down:

Brig. Gen. Michael Walsh, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was testifying on the Louisiana coastal restoration process in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He began to answer one of Boxer’s questions with “ma’am” when Boxer immediately cut him off. 

“You know, do me a favor,” an irritated Boxer said. “Could you say ‘senator’ instead of ‘ma’am?'”

“Yes, ma’am,” Walsh interjected.

“It’s just a thing, I worked so hard to get that title, so I’d appreciate it, yes, thank you,” she said. 

“Yes, senator,” he responded. 

Most reasonable people would agree that if you want respect, you should show it. Thus, the senator may have helped her quest for respect had she first demonstrated it by referring to the witness in this dialogue as “general”, a title he no doubt also worked hard to earn; a title that was attained through decades of personal discipline and achievement rather than via a ballot box.

Going forward, consider the following thoughts and lessons to help combat any  personal pride that causes you to become obsessed with your own title or position:

Lesson #1. A title doesn’t make you a leader. It simply gives you the opportunity to become one. In fact,  all that a title does is buy you time: time to earn influence or to lose it, to get the job done or to blow it.

Lesson #2. Leadership is performance and not position. It is a choice that you make and not a place where you sit.

Lesson #3. It’s a foolish notion indeed to think that your competence has been increased by virtue of a change in title!

Lesson #4. As a leader, you don’t automatically have followers, you only have subordinates. How you act as a leader determines whether or not those subordinates ever turn into followers.

Lesson #5. If you inherit a title, you must understand that leadership is not genetic! The annals of history swell with examples of deposed monarchs and heirs that lost family fortunes that attest to this fact. In other words, if you were born on third base, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you hit the triple!

Lesson #6. Authority doesn’t make you a leader! A judge has authority; as does a teacher, a parent, a senator and a policeman. But it is character, competence, consistency and compassion that earn the influence necessary to ordain these titled authority figures as genuine leaders.

Lesson #7. If you meet Barbara Boxer do not call her Barbara, Babs, Barbie, ma’am,  Miss, or Mrs. Boxer. She has made very clear how she expects to be addressed. As a  tax-encumbered, resident of her deficit-laden state, I find it refreshing to know where at least one elected official stands on a specific issue.

Contact info: