I am humbled to have the trust of many leaders in the media, MarCom and consumer products and services industry. I genuinely consider myself privileged to have access to the inspiring, vulnerable, and distilled leaders’ versions that unveil particularly when transitions in their career unfold.

This whole “title connotation” topic has started brooding in my head precisely when leaders who were once CXOs, whatever this X stands for (CEO, CMO, CFO, CHRO to name few…) shared with me the void they immerse in once their precious title is hijacked from them. Some have used words like “intolerable”, “painful”, “demeaning”, “traumatizing”, “scary” to describe that void.

Surviving the non-CXO space is indeed way harder than the actual transition itself. The fear of becoming irrelevant could be destroying and paralyzing and can act as a massive boulder in their journey. 

Even worse, their universe and all the possible signs in it consolidate these fears. Their calendars are blank. Their phones don’t ring anymore. Their calls aren’t answered either. 

Those executives have temporarily been derailed from believing in themselves and that while they might have been stripped from their title, their expertise remains intact. Who they are and what they are capable for is a transferable asset to any new workplace. Most importantly leadership traits remain their own property, for leadership isn’t a title but rather who they are.

Once this is acutely brought to their awareness and more importantly to their practice and once they commit to embodying again this leadership spirit, everything else starts to fall into the new place. 

There is a coveted title galore in every market and a plethora of new roles that are confusing. Titles sound glamorous and empowering. They also sound complex, and I have to find out at times what they mean before being with those leaders.

Should we attempt to go back to basics, a title originally aims at summarizing a job description and works as a hyphen between the person and the team or the external world. Any finite prestigious use of the title fires back on the long run.

While organizations might prefer to keep those loaded titles in place, it is up to the leaders to embody who they are rather than just stick to their labels.

Leaders learn to detach from their assigned titles once they are forced to do so. How about consciously discerning the difference between the actual wording and labeling in their designations versus the fact that they are worth their salt with and without the title?

Now, how about doing so while they are still in their current jobs and endowed with their big flashy titles? This will be a game changer.

It hit me the other day when I came across the title of Barista on LinkedIn attributed to the owner and founder of a famous coffee shop, and I found that inspiring and grounding.

Should that coffee shop shut down, this lady will still be the passionate barista in the absence of the big title and she will be ready to rumble on new grounds. 

Who can take that away from her?

 After all, isn’t a CEO a team leader and a CMO a marketer on top and above of the leadership roles? And isn’t a group CEO in a smaller size firm the equivalent of a group director in a multinational company? A title can be a box and a limiting belief indeed even when it is two phrases long.

A title can be ruthlessly hijacked from its owner overnight due to endless reasons. Some people even stay miserably stuck in jobs they dread just to keep their titles viable.

I witness this every day and I even lived this myself many years ago in the agency days before embarking on the coaching journey. I went from a regional head of insights to just a mom of two in the fastest way possible. It wasn’t my boss who deprived me from that position but rather my critical health issues back then. One of the things that saved me was how an industry friend described me “you are a researcher by blood”

He was right, isn’t that what I was technically doing? And unless I stay for a long time off grid, it was up to me to be back at the helm with my expertise.

Dear executives, I kindly invite you the very next time you step into your office, to start weaning yourself from the alluring halo effect attached to your designation while you still hold tight to the actual role you play and most importantly to the leadership mission you’re here for.

You are not your title so don’t be a hostage of it! And if you are still not sure who you are away from your title, then you would need to start defining that. This is going to be extremely uncomfortable, yet I assure you it is worth it.

Give it a whirl and let me know how it goes.