Stop Calling Yourself the 'CEO' and Start Telling People What You Do
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J D Wetherspoon is well-known in the United Kingdom for its more than 890 pubs, as well as a chain of upscale bars and boutique hotels. The firm, founded in 1979 by Tim Martin, grosses about $2.2 billion a year and employs more than 37,000 people. Martin prides himself on visiting anywhere from 10 to 20 of his establishments each week. He writes notes on the staff, the cutlery, the quality of food and, of course, the beer. Oh, and he consumes about two to four pints of it just about every day.
Martin's official title at Wetherspoon, which is a publicly held company, is chairman and founder. But, don't you dare call him that. "I'm a publican," he said in a recent BBC interview. "My day-to-day life is running pubs."
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What do you say when people ask you what you do for a living? Are you a "small business owner?" An "entrepreneur?" A "CEO?" Don't believe it. You're none of those things. Those are just titles, made up to make people feel more important. This is not what you really do.
Instead, think of what your business does. If your business provides landscaping services, then what you really do is you create beautiful lawns. If you distribute piping to energy companies, then you're really helping customers in the oil industry be more efficient. If your shop sells coffee, then you're a seller of coffee and if your store sells men's underwear then you sell men underwear.
Me? My title may be president of the Marks Group but that's not who I am and that's not what I do. When people ask me what I do, I say I sell technologies that helps our clients sell and market their products.
To me, when someone says they're a CEO they lose credibility. It's like the title is being used to impress other people. It's very easy when you start a business to give yourself whatever title you want (I find it hilarious -- if not a little sad -- when some guy repping industrial products from his home office seriously refers to himself as a CEO).
Of course, titles are necessary in the corporate world. You need them when you fill out a form or when you hand out a business card. But a title is not what you do. Martin's business philosophy is that you're not out to change the world. You're just out to make it a tiny bit better. That's what you really do.
You help other people. You are directly responsible for making and selling stuff that is used by people to make their lives better in some small way. If you're an employee, you contribute to an organization that makes and sells stuff that is used by people to make their lives better in some small way. If your business is selling boring pipes or packaging or farm equipment to other businesses, your products are helping those business create stuff that ultimately is used by people to make their lives better in some small way.
Don't discount this. Every business is important, every business makes a contribution, every business is -- in some small way -- making the world a tiny bit better.
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So the next time someone asks you what you do, for goodness sake never, ever say you're a CEO or a president -- and definitely don't call yourself a "small business owner" or even -- ugh -- an "entrepreneur." You're not that. In the end, you are what your company does. Not all of us are lucky enough to call ourselves publicans and quaff a few pints of ale every day as part of our jobs. But, we make our contributions other ways and that's how we should always identify ourselves.