There was a young man who had ambitions to work for a company because it paid well and was prestigious. He interviewed and eventually got an entry-level position.
 
Then he turned his focus to a new goal. He wanted to become a manager. A position that would come with more prestige and pay. He completed every assignment he received. He came in early and stayed late so the boss would see him putting in long hours.
 
After five years a manager position opened up. But, to the man’s dismay, another employee, who had only worked for the company for six months, got the job. He was angry, and went to his boss for an explanation.
 
The boss said, “Before I answer your questions, can you do me a favor?”
 
“Sure,” said the employee.
 
“Can you go to the store and buy some oranges? My wife needs them.”
 
The young man agreed and went to the store. When he returned, the boss asked, “What kind of oranges did you buy?”
 
“I don’t know,” the young man answered. “You just said to buy oranges, and these are oranges. Here they are.”
 
“How much did they cost?” the boss asked.
 
“Well, I’m not sure,” was the reply. “You gave me $30. Here is your receipt, and here is your change.”
 
“Thank you,” said the boss. “Now, please have a seat and pay attention.”
 
Then the boss called in the employee who received the promotion and asked him to do the same job. He agreed and went to the store.
 
When he returned, the boss asked, “What kind of oranges did you buy?”
 
“Well,” he replied, “the store had many varieties. There were navel oranges, Valencia oranges, blood oranges, tangerines, and many others, and I didn’t know which kind to buy. But I remembered you said your wife needed the oranges, so I called her. She said she was having a party and that she was going to make orange juice. So I asked the grocer which of all these oranges would make the best orange juice. He said the Valencia orange was full of very sweet juice, so that’s what I bought. I also dropped them by your home on my way back to the office.”
 
“How much did they cost?” the boss asked.
 
“Well, that was another problem. I didn’t know how many to buy, so I once again called your wife and asked her how many guests she was expecting. She said 20. I asked the grocer how many oranges I would need to make juice for 20 people, and it was a lot. So, I asked the grocer if he could give me a quantity discount, and he did! These oranges normally cost 75 cents each, but I only paid 50 cents. Here is your change and the receipt.”
 
The boss smiled and said, “Thank you; you may go.”
 
He looked over at the young man who had been watching. The young man stood up, slumped his shoulders and said, “I see what you mean,” as he walked out of the office.

I used to be that guy

When I hear this story a lot of memories come flooding back from my career. I remember having this attitude in my 20’s. I kept waiting for my company to give me more. I expected more responsibility, a bigger title and more money.
 
Had I known what I know now, I would have taken a different approach. Instead of worrying about the title I would have acted as if I already had it. Instead of focusing on what I could receive, I would have focused on what I could give.
 
Titles and money are not given, they are earned. My focus on the next reward took my focus off of finding ways to be more valuable. 
 
What I should have done is made life easier on those around me. I should have focused on having an impact. I should have focused on delivering results and getting things done. I should have found more solutions, not more problems. I should have said less and done more. I should have acted like the role I wanted.
 
What I know now is that titles aren’t required to do these things. They don’t grant any super power. They don’t change a person’s ability. And they certainly don’t mean someone is better at a job.

Act as if

I finally started to figure this out in my thirties. At the time I was the VP of Sales for a new part of our business. My job was to deliver revenue. To do that I needed a product, marketing support and a strategy for the business. I didn’t have anyone on my team to do those things.
 
But I did know what needed to get done. I could have waited for someone to give me the support I needed. I could have waited for someone to give me a bigger role so I could hire a team. Or I could do it myself, produce the results and get rewarded for the outcome. This was the path I took and I’m glad I did.
 
My success in this role led to new opportunities. Within a few years I got a new title, CEO. Before that point I viewed this role and title as something magical. But doing the job I learned that while only one person may have the title at a company, everyone can work like a CEO.
 
CEO’s don’t get to complain
CEO’s find ways to get things done
CEO’s deliver results
CEO’s stay calm
CEO’s gather data to make the best decision
CEO’s know what is most important to get done
CEO’s let fires burn
CEO’s take ownership
CEO’s take action
 
If everyone in a company shared this mindset and acted this way, those people and their companies would be a lot more successful.

Summary

Job titles are a yardstick for responsibilities and tasks. They have a use, but they aren’t that useful. To me the stories of success are worth far more than the title on a piece of paper. Success stories stick. Titles are just words. Success stories are unique. Titles are common. Results matter. Titles don’t.
 
This post is part of a series of letters to my kids. My goal is to reflect on and capture as many life lessons as possible. Here is the current list I am working from.