I remember thinking there would be a moment, like the scene in Jerry Maguire, when I would look at the business card that finally had a prestigious title on it and I would say, "You complete me." And I really would be completed. I would feel like I'd arrived.
I would have what I always wanted: influence.
People would listen to me.
Then the moment came, and that isn't what happened at all. In fact, it kind of felt like being a kid again, when your parents ask how it feels to be 13, rather than 12. It feels pretty much the same.
And being a Chief (Something) Officer felt pretty much like being a Director of (Something).
Sure, the pay was a little better, and if I really wanted to act like a jerk I could make sure people knew I was a Chief (Something) Officer. I could casually leave my business card lying around and pretend to be modest, saying, "Oh, that. Well, if you must ask..."
But I didn't want to do any of those things. I just wanted people to listen to what I had to say.
I wanted influence.
And when no one listened, I had my own personal Grinch moment.
I learned that influence doesn't come from titles--influence, perhaps, requires a little bit more.
Influence requires truly caring about the work you do. Influence requires the willingness to take risks. Influence requires a willingness to be disliked. Influence must constantly be renewed. Influence is difficult to win, and easy to lose. Influence has no roadmap.
Influence isn't handed to you after you successfully ace a job interview.
Influence isn't earned after a promotion.
Albert Einstein was a patent clerk when he began to publish some of the most influential scientific research in human history.
A less-well-known figure, Dr. Francis Townsend, was an unemployed elderly doctor in California when he came up with the "Townsend Plan" during the 1930s. Townsend's work began when he wrote a letter to the editor of The Long Beach Press-Telegram, in which he outlined a plan for public pensions. Townsend started a movement that resulted in the passage of Social Security, which helped move millions of older Americans out of poverty.
Albert Einstein didn't let his title get in the way of changing the world with his genius.
Dr. Francis Townsend didn't let his title get in the way of influencing congress and the president.
If you let it, a title can straightjacket your influence.
Don't let that happen.
Be Einstein. Be Townsend.
The influential you.