Resisting the Idol of a Title

“Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” 

Titles. They define us in ways that we don't even choose at times. Simply having "Principal" behind my name carried connotations for people based upon their experiences that created barriers of which I may not have even been aware. One of my favorite experiences in my most recent chapter as a high school principal was when people came into the main office and chatted with me for a bit prior to knowing who I was.  When I introduced myself as the principal, there were many noteworthy reactions, but many tied to the fact that I didn't look like their principal growing up. This usually followed a description of a male advanced in age with few follicles atop his crown, and it always left me feeling a sense of accomplishment for simply existing to shatter their paradigm of how a high school principal should present. The title of principal can create a line between people if it is allowed because of a sense of power within it. Likely this complication exists because there are those out there who relish the perceived elevation of the title. My personal feelings on that are characterized by my reaction any time someone asked what I did when I was near my mom. Where I enjoyed listening in a conversation before presenting the title as long as  I could, my mom would shove that title out there as soon as possible. She was proud of me, so it makes sense. For me, I know how some people will change their expectations of me once they are aware of that title. They picture the disciplinarian. Authoritarian. The "Dark" Side. Many feel I am better than them with that title though I can guarantee the feeling was not mirrored from me.

Nevertheless, there is deep comfort in a title because it carries with it a sense of belonging. You are part of an organization and the title carries with it an opportunity to be part of something really special. My experiences as a teacher and principal are some of the most defining of my life, and I am forever grateful for the wisdom from thousands of interactions while I carried those titles. When we first place that title on our resume, business card, email signature, there is a sense of pride simply from being able to define ourselves in a space. And what an honored space in schools to work with our future every single day!

Still, though I do feel I had a healthy sense of humility when I carried the title, I am being challenged in this new season where the title is not readily available to me.  My business card has a few titles that might work to define how this next year of my life will look. Honestly, I am still finding my way.

It struck me recently though that while my official title may have morphed over time, it has always had its roots in one: Leader. And a leader can be found ANYWHERE, which is really freeing and empowering when you consider the opportunities that exist without the weight of an official title.

I am so lucky to have been raised by one of the best models of servant and joyful leadership right in my own home. His life is wisdom illuminated considering he dropped out of formal schooling in the 8th grade and completed his high school equivalency through correspondence while serving our country in Vietnam. My dad owned and operated a successful small business for the bulk of his life, making enough money to support seven children. He worked tirelessly day in and out to provide financially, emotionally, and most importantly, spiritually for our family. He learned on the job how to manage a business checking account, hire employees, market his services, develop partners for materials, and build a base of customers to sustain a business for over 30 years. When asked what he did for a living, he could have stated that he was the Owner and Operator, CEO, President, or even Manager. Instead, his response is what inspires me today. He simply replied, "I am a carpet installer."

Using his example, I am happy to resist the idol of a title and moving into this year with a heart that is open to learn as much as possible, immerse myself in service to others, and impact as many people as I can in a new space without the formality and connotation of a title.

For those of you fortunate to have the comfort of a title, I urge you to consider how you can transcend it without needing to take the bold leap that I did to come to it. There are many leaders out there with a healthy sense of resistance to idolizing the title. Share your tips for transcending the title so we can all learn.


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