The new art of awarding yourself a fancy title | #BizTrends with Dion Chang

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Dion-Chang-Biz-Trends-Header-In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell published his best-selling book, Outliners – The Story of Success. The book explores what makes people successful: from athletes to business giants and even musicians. Throughout the book, Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10 000 Hour Rule”: his assertion that the key to success in any field is reliant on working on, or practicing, a specific skill or discipline for at least 10 000 hours. He maintains that greatness requires enormous time – not just genius or intellect – and uses the musical talents of The Beatles, and Bill Gates’ computer savvy as specific examples to drive his point home.


BizTrends-on-BizRadioDion Chang in conversation with BizRadio’s Grant Jansen
Podcast | Click HERE to listen


However, this theory goes out the window when you look at the young guns in South Africa, who are starting their own businesses. Starting a business takes courage and guts, and that should be applauded and encouraged because South Africa needs entrepreneurs. We are already on our way to becoming the largest welfare state in the world, with a dependency ratio of one taxpayer to three welfare dependents: that’s simply unsustainable. In terms of job creation, the current thinking is not to try and find five million jobs, but rather to support one million small businesses. However, some of the “pre-packaged” new businesses appearing out of nowhere makes me raise an eyebrow.

We live in a world where instant gratification rules, and in South Africa it’s not only instant gratification we have to contend with, but also an added layer of conspicuous consumption. Showing off your bling has somehow moved into the business realm. It’s now not enough to just flash that Breitling watch on your wrist, you also need a fancy business title to support your burgeoning ego as well. As a result I now seem to bump into an extraordinary number of CEO’s Managing Directors, and Chiefs of this and that. It’s like I’ve stumbled into a C-suite convention, or I’ve just started to move in very influential circles. Sadly, it’s neither of the two.

I call it Titlement: not “EN”titlement, just Titlement – the new art of awarding yourself a fancy title without any clue of what the job would actually entail, or perhaps more importantly, none of the messy stuff that would require you to work your way up a ladder and actually earn the right to use the title. The best one I’ve come across recently is an email from someone, who signs off as “Editor in Chief”. Suitably impressed, I did a bit more investigating into the publication, as I was not familiar with the title. I soon discovered that the person was “Editor in Chief” of his own blog. Surely, to be “Editor in Chief”, you would need a team to manage, like perhaps an editor below you as well as features editor, sub editor, art director and various departmental editors?

Apparently, not any more.

Intrigued by this phenomenon, I looked into what recruitment agencies look for when head hunting for the C-suite, and unsurprisingly there was a lot in common with Gladwell’s 10 000 Hour Rule and can be broken down into three basic pillars:

(1) Education: Most CEOs have an undergraduate degree in a business field such as marketing, accounting, management or finance. A Master of Business Administration is the gold standard for advanced degrees. But not all CEO’s have degrees, but what they do have is;

(2) Experience: Job-related experience is obviously crucial. Either, hands-on knowledge gained from using, selling and making a company’s product or service, or from holding a variety of administrative positions during the course of 10 or more years. And finally;

(3) Management skills: an aptitude to guide and manage the different personality types that are likely to be found in the workplace or on your team.

Call me old fashioned but just as I prefer a surgeon to have had to aim for a 100% pass rate, rather than 30%, I too prefer my leaders – business or otherwise – to have notched up a respectable amount of experience. The same goes for airline pilots.

Titlement, however, just breeds bigger egos. Tacked onto the impressive job title is usually another façade of the “company’s” global reach. In some cases, I’ve seen people list their global “bureau’s” in a sign off; most favoured are the inevitable – New York, Paris and London. I, of course, can’t stop myself so I have phoned “offices” in New York, only to discover that the numbers simply don’t exist. If you’re going to fabricate a lie, at least list a friend or family member who can answer the call and extend the lie. There are people like me who do check up.

We need entrepreneurs and small businesses, but not those built with smoke and mirrors. These lofty titles and fabricated businesses are bound to collapse just as quickly as a cheap RDP house built without proper foundations.

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