I remember hearing very early in my life that “a token and a title will only get you a ride on the bus … if you don’t forget the token”. I never really thought much about what it meant when I first heard it, but I came understand it fully later in my career that it’s not the title that counts.
It’s the work that you do, it’s who you are and it’s where you want to go that really matters. It’s one of the reasons that as I building my career, I never turned down an opportunity to talk about an open role with a recruiter. I learned to become “title agnostic” in a way. You want to draw high potentials to your organization, get over the grandiose titles, move beyond structural hierarchies, and get with allowing people to get on the bus at their own stop.
Organizational hierarchies worked during the post-WWII era. In the age of globalization, they’re not so relevant anymore. In an age of diffused networks and ever-faster flows of information, you can’t stop people from interacting with one another because of a title. Gen X and Gen Y aren’t wowed by your corner office or your fancy title. If you hold so rigidly to your organizational structure that you won’t let ‘junior’ staff converse with senior leaders, we’re walking right out the door.
We want to know what you have done to set you apart from others. We’re more impressed with how you align your work and your values than with the title on your business card. We want to know how you’ve made an impact on this world and on others. You may be a senior executive, you may revere a senior executive, but do it because of who they are, not what title they go by in the organization. They put their pants on just like the rest of us. They make mistakes just like the rest of us.
If you’re looking to attract high potential talent to your organization, don’t try to woo or impress them with titles and offices. Get them to come because the work you have is meaningful and challenging. You’ll keep them there much longer that way. Once they get there, let them live a little. Don’t try and control how they navigate the organization. You may be surprised what they bring to the table. Give them a token, and just let them ride.