I have flashbacks quite often of 20-something-year old Carrie.
Sometimes I am 22-years-old working at a media company as a Web Editor, and I am at their biannual technology trade show. I have about a dozen press meetings scheduled that day with various companies. A lump grows in my throat as I browse my list of appointments, getting lost in the alphabet soup of C-suite officials I have to meet with and “wow.”
Other times I am a bit older. I am leading a content marketing agency and am joining our sales team on a critical meeting to acquire new business. I learn we are meeting with the CMO of a Fortune 500 company to discuss content marketing strategy. I start to think about what outfit I could possibly wear to age myself by about 20 years to appear more senior in front of this marketing powerhouse.
In both scenarios—and countless others—I am obsessively terrified by the other person’s title and what I have decided it means.
That they are more important than me.
The truth is, the way our leadership model has worked for decades suggests that the above may all be quite true! These very people are—many times—smart, innovative, strategic, powerful. More often than not they have worked incredibly hard to get to where they are to earn the badge of honor. They are often the change-makers, the workhorses and the trailblazers.
It hit me a few years ago that they were not the problem. I was the problem, or rather my way of perceiving others. I had granted these executives a power and a hold over me as if there was a universal rule out there that said when you reach the C-suite you will automatically disempower, intimidate and order others around who don’t share a title equal to yours.
Recently, I have noticed that I don’t feel this way about meeting people anymore. I’ve realized that I don’t care about anyone’s title anymore because it doesn’t give me a clue as to how they will be. For every five CEOs you meet who are disempowering, hierarchical and brash, you will meet five more who are humble, authentic and empowering.
I don’t worry about holding my spot at the table on a first meeting. I respect and admire the incredible things others have done but instead of using them as factors of intimidation, I use them as sources of inspiration.
I worry less about saying the “wrong” thing and focus more on having real, meaningful conversations.
I trust in myself that I can provide value to everyone, no matter how small or big.
If I am being reflective, I am sure some of this change in my disposition has to do with the fact that on paper, I have an impressive title that based on archaic leadership models means I “get to” hold space with other impressive titles. Gosh how broken is that, right? I also know that some of this feeling has to do with maturity and perspective that comes over time.
But, at its core, it has to do with a mindset shift I adopted years ago about leadership. The one we all know deep down but don’t always live by….
Leadership has nothing to do with title.
Think about that for a moment. Most of us—especially if you are here reading this blog—believe that leadership is about the person, the mindset and the behaviors, not about the title or position.
But how many of us interact with all people—regardless of title—in a way that demonstrates that title doesn’t matter?
How often do we stay in our executive peer groups as our core form of networking instead of seeking out mentors, sponsors and career champions across all seniority levels?
How many times do we solicit career advice from people who have the roles we want from a title perspective, rather than the people who exhibit the skill sets we wish to strengthen?
How many times do we make assumptions about someone’s aptitude based on their resume, screening out unbelievable candidates in the process?
Over the past few years I have cultivated countless business and personal relationships that mean the world to me. Some of these people are CEOs of incredibly successful, multi-million dollar businesses. Others are grant coordinators at nonprofits. Some are solopreneurs with no desire to every hire an employee. Each person is my teacher, and I think it’s because we are all entering into the relationship from a place of equality. We don’t let titles subconsciously dictate the parameters of relationship. We don’t allow institutionalized beliefs about corporate hierarchy to shape any part of our interaction. We treat each other as equals, eager to learn from and shape one another.
It’s a powerful realization when you stop seeing titles in the workplace. When you stop limiting who you form relationships with based on corporate constructs. When you cultivate community outside your typical peer group because you realize there is unbelievable self-growth that comes from stretching outside your normal circles. When you realize that your greatest career champion is likely someone you haven’t even met yet. And that their title could be anything in this world because it doesn’t matter in the slightest.
Carrie Majewski is committed to affecting change. As Founder of the Women in Leadership Nexus, Carrie is fueled by a desire to create safe space for female luminaries to convene to redefine the notion of leadership. She has forged a career around strategic writing and storytelling, having led a digital marketing agency for almost three years and today working as VP of Marketing for Trilix. Carrie is a 2017 Rhode Island “40 Under 40” honoree and a 2016 Rhode Island Tech10 Winner. In her spare time you'll find her trying out a local hip-hop class, exploring parks with her rescue dog Tori, and sipping coffee with other powerhouse women.