A new advertising campaign from IBM asserts that a successful CFO should be viewed as a Chief Future Officer. I smiled when I saw the ad because I thought businesses had exhausted all possible Chief Officer titles. Today, it seems most companies have shifted from various combinations of Vice President titles (VP, SVP, EVP) to Chief titles as a way to identify who is in charge. As companies named endless vice presidents in times past, lately it seems Chief titles are taking over.
This practice has not been limited to business. The same seems to hold true in government where one finds Chief titles of all makes and models, including Chief, Senior Chief, Deputy Chief, Administrative Chief, and Assistant Chief. Recently, I also noticed a shift to Chief titles outside the workforce altogether.
Specifically, a new Lincoln Financial Group advertising campaign advocates that everyone view themselves as a Chief Life Officer®. Their award-winning promotion resonates with a segment of the population that connects a title with authority. But with so many Chief titles out there, do we really know what it means to be Chief?
Thinking back to when I was growing up, I don’t remember hearing or reading the term “Chief” all that often. Certainly there was Commander-in-Chief, and closer to home there was the Chief of Police. (I also recall watching the original television portrayal of Superman where Jimmy Olson invariably referred to Perry White, editor of the fictional Daily Planet newspaper, as Chief.) The term was reserved for those who were in charge at the very top level.
I also remember the stories my Dad told us when he came home from work about what it really took to be Chief.
It’s a Matter of Choice
My Dad was a mid-level personnel manager (human resources) working at the only non-union machine tool shop in central Massachusetts. Dad would tell me and my brothers about grievances, pay and benefit issues, and his challenge of connecting the managers at Heald Machine to the workers so the company could grow. In twenty-seven years at Heald, there was never even a single union vote. Why? Because my Dad treated everyone with respect and led without any positional authority.
Dad taught me that being Chief had more to do with choice than title or level. I have benefited greatly throughout my career from the foundational lessons my Dad taught me.
In the first phase of my career, I worked in one organization at a time. Over thirty years, I served in many roles in five organizations in five different industries. Early on I found myself consistently thrust into turnaround situations. Later, I sought them out. Success in each was due in large part to a specific roadmap that I used to enable Chiefs at all levels to unlock their potential.
Five years ago, I made a personal decision to change my life-work balance. The nature of my turnaround assignments in phase one had taken a toll on the time I was able to spend with my wife Diane and our two children. As my oldest was entering high school, I decided not to pursue another big job until both kids graduated. I founded my own company, Choices & Success LLC, as part of phase two. I began working as a Chief, supporting a limited number of Chiefs in different organizations. It was rewarding to serve others who could use my roadmap and guidance to help them grow as their organizations grew.
BEING CHIEF—Taking It to the Next Phase
I am excited to announce the beginning of phase three with the launch of BEING CHIEF LLC. I will expand my service as a confidant and advisor, supporting select clients’ business and personal growth. In addition, I will be expanding my speaking schedule and my advocacy for Chiefs at all levels. The lessons that started with my Dad are now research-based, broadly road-tested and simplified to help Chiefs and companies grow. In 2014, my new book BEING CHIEF…the CHOICE is YOURS will be published to serve a larger audience.
As we build a community, I am grateful for the opportunity to engage with so many others who believe it’s not about title or level, but choice.
Thank you. I look forward to our continuing conversation.