Titles, entitlement and the sweet success of serving others!

Titles, Entitlement and Sweet Success

Titles, entitlement and the sweet success of serving!

Discovering more about ourselves, our values, cultures and how to contribute to a better world through the sweet success of serving others. Written by Hester Bergh-Appoyer. Published in Business Goa Magazine, April 2017

Sweet success. Have you ever asked yourself why success is referred to as sweet? The sweet taste or smell of success? Here’s a thought. Some of us have stronger sensory filters than others, we can see, hear, feel, taste and smell success and there is the linguistic idea that sweet has been used metaphorically to refer to something pleasing since 888 CE. The earliest mention of it being used with success is 1684.

I started my career in an American company well known for its baby products and less known for its enormous global market share in surgical and optical products. But I’m not sure those “formative” years of my professional life, which have been the foundation of all my business interactions, were always to my benefit. Sometimes it served me sweetly, other times not.

So what was it that made such a big impact on my rookie mind?

It was the sweet sound of being called by my name. (Not the tone my mother used to use when she was less than pleased with me – but that is another read!)

On my first day at Johnson & Johnson I was welcomed at reception, shown around and taken to meet lots of people. Important people. I met truck drivers, warehouse packers and managers, kitchen staff, accountants, telesales staff and some of the big shots sitting in plush floored offices (bigger than my newly rented flat) as well as the CEO who was introduced to me by his first name. He already knew mine.

The embodiment of J&J’s company culture and credo is consistently demonstrated by the way they extend value to their patients, clients and employees. Click on “credo” above. Enduring mutual success is a spirit of serving that smiled and smiles through the offices and corridors in the sweet absence of titles and entitlement.

It was with this spirit to serve and eagerness to sample my own sweet success that I later went into the big wide world of international business.

Serving Others and Sweet Success

Fast forward to Kuala Lumpur and I have joined an international educational institute as lecturer in charge and head of department for the business and marketing department. Sounds grand doesn’t it?

Some months later I was invited to a formal dinner which was being hosted by the college owners for dignitaries who endorsed the institution. I was given a list of the names. Drat! This Mat Salleh (foreigner) had no idea what she was up against. Titles in Malaysia can range from being a *Guru (you know is teacher) / Profesor (missing an f and s) / Pensyarah (lecturer) / Pakar Perunding (consultant) Cemerlang (excellent) to G/P/P/PP Kanak (senior) to G/P/P/PP Penolong (assistant) and if you are really well bestowed it will include Honorary Title, Professional Rank, Royal Hereditary Title (if), Federal Title, Non-Royal Hereditary Title, Doctor, Name. I chucked the list, held thumbs and waded my way through the fields of titles and cultural landmines. I was not a success. It was not sweet but I live to tell the tale.

Fast forward to Austria. I am new in a country and cannot speak its language. Don’t worry about that Hester, they all speak English someone lied. No sweat. I can do this. And hey, we look the same, dress the same, eat the same so the transition from South East Asia to Austria is going to be a walk in Vienna’s beautiful Stadtpark isn’t it? No. Not quite. But that too is another read!

Within a couple of months I am starting out on my new business venture of being a communication coach for execs who need support in their English business activities. I already have seven board members and two CEOs on my client list. And, this time I’m prepared – Austrians like titles. I internalise the titles of those I have to meet. And, yes, mother of all drats, I still manage to get it wrong which kick-starts a flush of facial discoloration, a tight lipped correction by the assistant while the said gentlemen remains unusually expressionless. I fluff over it with some quirky comment about being a bush girl and that these faux pas should be forgiven which causes a…what was that? …was that an eensy-teensy smile? To which I got: You are lucky you are not Austrian. Whoa!

Fast forward to Goa, India. The year is 2017. A few days ago my husband and I were invited to our neighbour’s birthday party. She’s big on clubs and societies and happy to introduce me to her other guests. I duly warned the first few that I am bad at remembering names and worse at titles. Some smiled, others didn’t. At one particular gentleman, and rebelling against being told that I was honoured to be meeting the secretary of this and president of that I made an unconscious dismissive hand gesture and begged the gentleman to tell me his name. My host promptly turned on her heels with a huff and left me to do whatever she thought I had to do to remedy the situation. In that instant he smiled, stepped forward, asked me to repeat my name. Without any further ado we went into a delightfully en-lighten-ing conversation. It was a true honour to speak with him – again, in the sweet absence of titles.

Here’s why.

Titles create a spirit of entitlement. In other words it’s your ego talking. Entitlement messes with your head. It alienates and gets you more rejection than affection. Titles and entitlement will not ensure sweet success. Ultimately it hinders connective conversation, collaboration and therefore co-creation. Entitlement – your ego – does not serve anyone. Least of all you.

I realise your egos are thumping their fists and shouting She’s wrong! You’re entitled to your opinion…you have rights…blah entitled blah. And you are, but there is a difference between making a valuable contribution through valued exchange, to having an attitude of higher altitude.  Go get that pin.

Titles and entitlement!

And. I get that you might have been born into status (royal or not), went to the best (or not) college (or not) and – if you were anything like some of my students in Malaysia and Austria you might have loads of experience in cheating too – you might be qualified for that title. Or not.

The woman, man, or company culture – just like the one I was introduced to 30 years ago – that stands out and is remembered is the one that serves. In today’s extreme busy-ness of doing business with people vying for your attention via impersonal platforms, it would be good to take archaic and unquestioned culturally upheld habits – especially those that foster entitlement – by their bullish horns and give them a real good shake.

If it is profitable business conversation and sweet success you’re looking for, remember that the sound of your name makes it even sweeter.

Regards, Hester


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