Remember when “Chief ___ Officer” meant something?

Time was, having “chief” in your name denoted something important, that you had risen through the ranks of your peers and achieved noteworthiness in their eyes, getting placed in charge of a goodly number of them, and receiving a corner office as a reward. Chief executive officer. Chief operating officer. Chief financial officer. Chief information officer.

No more.

Now (apparently) anyone can get “chief” in the name. We have chief engagement officer, chief visionary officer, chief people officer, chief observance officer, and more. Somewhere – I am reasonably certain – there is a chief officer officer. Maybe the officer officer can get together with Major Major and Mr. Mister and have a party.

I used to work for a company where everyone was a director. I mean it: literally everyone had “director” in their title, whether they were manning a booth or running the company. On the surface, it sounds terribly democratic and huggy, until you realize it means you have no way of establishing whether the person you’re talking to has any authority or decision-making power. That’s bad. It’s useful and important to know whether the person you’re talking to has any pull or authority in the company, and it’s essential for navigating the corporate hierarchy. When you phone up the client “director,” you kind of want to know whether they’re an 18-year-old with a summer job or the executive in charge of – duh – clients.

However, it appears “chief” can now be applied to anyone with a set of responsibilities and a pulse. If this sound charming and delicious, pause to consider that when a title is applied to anyone and everyone, it applies to no one, because the word loses all currency.

Thus, as of this moment I’m reclaiming the “chief” title for senior staff only, in all their hierarchical bourgeois entitlement. I shall brook no disagreement.

Sincerely yours,

Mark Farmer
Chief Snarky-Pants Officer

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