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. Then I realized confusion already exists—from CAO (administrative or academic?) to CTO (technology or treasury?) to everything in between, it is less clear than ever what a Chief title really means.
The same holds true in government jobs where one finds many Chief titles of all makes and models, including Chief, Senior Chief, Deputy Chief, Administrative Chief, and Assistant 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.
In my experience, having the good fortune to hire many people across many industries, I offer a perspective to those of you seeking a new job—being a Chief has little to do with title or level and much more to do with choice. The fact is I always looked to hire people who chose to be Chiefs rather than who hoped to be chosen.
I believe everyone can be a Chief at work. There are five elements of choice that you can develop to dramatically increase your attractiveness to a potential employer in either the private or public sector. Here are the five elements along with questions to help you prepare to demonstrate to a prospective employer that you are already a Chief:
Discipline – How can you describe or demonstrate that you can both plan the work and work the plan? How can you share stories of past success in handling details with control and results? Can you offer an example when you made an important adjustment?
Support – Can you describe or demonstrate how you work well with others? Teamwork is critical in most organizations. How can you best share your ability to enable others’ success?
Creativity – Can you describe or demonstrate how the way you think (internal creativity) and the way you speak, write, or act (external creativity) has made a difference for prior employers? Can you share an example of connecting multiple modes of creativity to achieve real innovation?
Insight – Can you describe or demonstrate how well you know yourself? Can you offer a story of how your self-understanding brought you through a difficult time and enabled you to succeed in spite of adversity?
Values – Can you communicate what you believe in and what you stand for? Can you provide examples of where and how your beliefs “show up” in the workplace?
In summary, in all organizations, hiring managers want to add the best talent to their teams. The ability to share stories or examples of the five elements of choice will separate you as a Chief. Chiefs are effective at their job because they connect who they are to what they do. Independent of their title or level, these impact players make everyone around them better.
Be a Chief. Share your stories. Good luck.