- For companies, titles are cheaper than raises.
- Which means you don’t always know how much influence an “influencer” really has.
- Which means one needs to look for other clues.
When filling out a social network is the goal, it’s tempting to chase any old person with a title, especially one that starts with C and ends with O. The problem, as has been chronicled, is that companies chastened by post-2008 slowdowns and set backs have been much quicker to confer pumped-up titles than plumped-up paychecks. That’s why everyone, it seems, is a chief of something. (Seriously, check out our sidebar).
Chief Happiness Officer? Check.
Chief Memory Officer? Got one of them, too.
Indeed, title inflation has trickled down from senior management. “Director of First Impressions” is at some companies what used to be called a “receptionist.”
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with whimsy, especially in corporate America, and at a functional level many of these men and women are doubtless quite good at what they do. But they may not be very good at fleshing out networks, which matters if you’re trying to build a valuable professional network. A concocted title does not an influencer make.
On the contrary, a flood of them has devalued the relationship capital cachet of the C-Suite. We’ve written about the importance of maintaining efficient networks, and these days that means being particularly mindful of the worth of each of your contacts. And that may mean figuring out a different way to evaluate that worth.
A study published in the Harvard Business Review argued that we rate true leaders largely on the basis of two key personality traits: warmth (their lovability and trustworthiness) and strength (competence and fearsomeness). “To be sure, we notice plenty of other traits in people, but they’re nowhere near as influential as warmth and strength,” the authors wrote. “Indeed, insights from the field of psychology show that these two dimensions account for more than 90% of the variance in our positive or negative impressions we form of the people around us.”
Of course, that’s the kind of intimate knowledge we aren’t about to have for every one of our contacts. Huggability doesn’t always break through at a conference breakout session. Other characteristics, though, can be more readily apparent in social settings.
Passionate, articulate and charismatic people, for example, stand out in a crowd. They’re the ones persuading others and garnering interest even in hyper-technical (read: boring) subjects, according to Forbes. They’re also the people who are likely to be connectors with well-appointed networks of their own.
You might call them Chief Networking Officers. On second thought, please don’t.
The Takeaway: Do your homework. It’s more important than ever to understand the “who” behind the “C,” so be certain the “chief” you’re dealing with actually has the command and reach you want or need.
Deanna Cioppa is a freelance writer who has written for AARP, ESPN The Magazine and Fodor’s. She is a frequent contributor to this blog.RelSci is a technology platform that helps create competitive advantage for legal, nonprofit, corporate and financial organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers.