Oct 5, 2022–A colleague recently retired as Executive Director of a community organization. After “congratulations,” my first thought was, I wonder if anyone will return his calls now?
You see, in our society, People don’t hold Positions; Positions hold People.
The power is really in the title. Director is important. Executive Director is more potent.
I’ve noted before how monumental it is to don the power of a Position. When I was being considered as Director of a Department, I was intimidated at first, if not terrified. How could I go from working as Itinerant Musician to Permanent Director?
I actually drove around town imagining myself as already wearing the mantle of New Director, humbly waving to my imaginary well-wishers and acknowledging my adoring fans. I had to try on the title, virtually, before I was able to accept myself sitting behind that Director sign on my desk.
But the actual power that comes with the title is not really about control over budgets, hiring and firing, or setting those always revised and never accomplished 5-year plans. The real advantage of holding a Position?
People return your calls.
When you leave a message starting, “This is I.M. Tall, Director of Universal Ubiquity…” odds are you will get an immediate call-back.
But after you retire, leaving a message from “Isadore Tall” will get a dial tone–or a reciprocal message, “Yes, a door is tall.”
There was once a service shop I used whose phone number was one digit off from the Chamber of Commerce. When I mentioned it, the owner said, “Yes, we know, and we love it. You would be surprised at the number of people who answer our sales calls thinking it is the Chamber calling.”
Perhaps that is why we tend to hang on to positions long after we are able to retire. One newly-minted superintendent confided that before he accepted that position another superintendent told him, this will be the easiest job you will have in education. I didn’t understand at first, but after being a director myself, it became clearer. Yes, the buck stops at your door, but all the actual work is done by people trying to please you. Staff members answer the phone, file the paperwork, clean the restrooms, and handle the day-do-day details. As director, your job is to… well, I never really figured that out. I only knew that I was really doing my job well when I was absent from the office for a few days and no one noticed.
But even in absentia, everyone returned my calls.