Two Dogs Sniffing and Status Anxiety

Communication Respect


Key Point: We limit others and ourselves when we attach too much to title and status. In organizations people are sometimes driven to titles because we hope or believe something magical happens to who we are when we achieve it. Of course, more money and responsibility is usually related and that is important. But status anxiety is something different and somewhat destructive. Alain de Botton, author, and contemporary philosopher, has written about the related shortcomings of status anxiety: “The first thing we ask someone is ‘what do you do [for a living]?’ It’s like that sniffing ritual when two dogs meet: ‘Sniff. Sniff. Aha. Gotcha.’”

A Big Think article on the topic and referencing de Botton, goes on to say:

“Typically, depending on the response to the job question, our interest in the other person rises or drops sharply off.

This, he points out, is terribly sad, misleading, and productive of all kinds of harmful social division and personal suffering. Why should we be tribalized or ostracized on the basis of one (admittedly time-consuming) aspect of our lives? Our deeper (and, de Botton argues, more important) human traits invisible until/unless we’ve passed the sniff test? 

De Botton says that status anxiety is more destructive than most of us can imagine. It convinces vulnerable people (without fascinating job titles) that their best personal qualities are worthless. It causes people to strive and struggle to meet goals that do little to further their inner well-being, on the (often unconscious) assumption that if their status improves, their worries will vanish. 

Once you’ve recognized the symptoms of status anxiety and snobbery in yourself, says de Botton, the remedy is to get out of the status game altogether, surrounding yourself with friends who are willing to take the time to get to know a person, regardless of the first impression. it is easier to realize your human potential when you feel free to experiment, to make mistakes, to take your time becoming somebody without feeling like a complete nobody in the meantime.”

Ask someone whose job is looking after a home or family how they feel when someone asks what “they do” at a social event. Often, the person asking the question is running to the closest appetizer tray before the “homemaker” finishes their response. Ok… I happen to have a great title (Chief People Officer) and I like what it stands for. I freely admit that I enjoy telling people what my title is. However, the article reminds me that I have a responsibility to honor and respect the title rather than expect or receive anything because of it. Maybe we should all have the CPO title? And of course “what I do” is a large percentage of me, but not my only trait. More importantly, of course, is who I am, what I authentically stand for, and the genuine value I bring to others. Leadership and contribution is earned through confident humility, compelling vision and virtuous values that become our real personal brand. The title itself has no sustainable value to anyone. 

Character Moves: 

  1. Do you have any status snobbery in you? Respect means to “look again.“ Titles inside or outside of organizations are short form banners that are convenient but essentially meaningless. What’s most important is what we know and understand about the whole person. 
  2. Status snobbery is destructive and taking the time to find out who someone is versus his or her title takes us to a more fulfilling relationship development path. Remember that people will always remember how we make them feel. When people care to learn about who we really are, it usually feels pretty darn good. 

Stop sniffing in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: Asking what someone “does” is likely not going anywhere, and it never will. I believe we should “ask,” but the message is not to “assume” a thing. There are a million reasons to inquire, ranging from networking possibilities to discovering common interests. Sometimes everyday “titles” can be the most interesting… I bet a plumber’s “worst day at work” story would hilariously trump any CEO’s. Just think about how many crazy stories a late night 7-11 clerk has… Ideally, no one is insecure about his or her job title. If they are, that’s on them, because every job can have interesting aspects… It’s about the storyteller… It’s on us to learn to be intrigued; it’s their responsibility to tell us the positives/communicate who they really are.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Hitting the Leadership Triple

Accountability Collaboration Teamwork


Key Point: In my previous posts, I have emphasized the “3 bagger” you have to hit to excel as a leader. This is based on the John Maxwell leadership construct and includes:

  1. You have to get results. No results equals no leadership role (or job for that matter.) If results are won while navigating through thorny problems and/or achieving a big value impact for the organization, then that’s the best leadership evidence. 
  1. You also need to be able to develop constructive relationships. People ideally really want to work for you AND with you regardless of where they are in the company. When people happily sign up or seek to collaborate with you, they usually do so because they believe in who you are and where you’re going. They genuinely think they’re going to learn from you. 
  1. You must be known for developing people. You are not only individually masterful in being able to lead yourself, others and the business. You are a teacher and coach too. (Jack Welch is most proud of the number of people who worked for him that went on to be CEOs of Fortune 50 companies).

So let’s put this leadership construct to test with a real world example. Business Insider (BI) released the scoop that a big “shakeup” at Google was reported Friday… “CEO Larry Page will be stepping back and focusing on the ‘bigger picture,'” shifting more responsibility to his right-hand man, Sundar Pichai. It’s a big promotion for Pichai, who will now be in charge of Google’s core products including search, maps, research, Google+, Android, Chrome, infrastructure, commerce and ads, and Google Apps. Formerly, he was only head of Android and Chrome. 

The BI article also noted that, “earlier this year there was a thread on Quora under the question, “What did Sundar Pichai do, that his peers didn’t do, that got him promoted to the highest ranks at Google?

Former Google product manager Chris Beckmann offered an insightful answer in February. He wrote:

I never reported to Sundar or in his group, but many of my peers and friends did. Besides being incredibly talented and hardworking like many of his coworkers and peers, Sundar did a few things:

  1. Foremost: he led successful efforts for difficult projects that were core to Google’s continued financial success, namely Toolbar and Chrome. Toolbar wasn’t an obviously sexy product but it helped defend the presence of Google search on users’ computers during a critical period following the revelation of Google’s incredible profitability. Chrome extended that mission to improve the user e navigating through experience of the entire web: keep users on the web and you’ll keep them searching on Google.
  2. He recruited, mentored, and retained a great team. Sundar’s team of product managers had a reputation as being among the best of the best, similar to the reputation of the software engineers within Search Quality.
  3. He avoided making enemies. Google has politics like any other large company, and Sundar navigated those politics to make his team successful while inflicting the least possible damage on any other team.” 

In addition to getting an education at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Pichai received a M.S. from Stanford and obtained an MBA from Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. At Wharton, Pichai was honored as a Siebel Scholar and a Palmer Scholar. So obviously Pichai is exceptionally bright and scholarly. But academic performance is only table stakes to “play” in the leadership world (although a top school background does determine the size of the platform). However, from a leadership progression perspective, the playing field levels around ones ability to hit the leadership triple or not. According to Larry Page and Beckmann’s quote above, Pichai certainly does that (note: The buzz is that Microsoft, Twitter and others have actively recruited Pichai).

Character Moves:

  1. Be mindful of your results. Look to work on tough, nasty problems and those that have a big impact. Look for where you can add significant value. DO NOT PLAY a “PAT HAND.” What you did in the past is interesting. What you’re doing now is what counts today. Think big… Even if you’re not doing sexy stuff. What are you responsible for that could really propel your area forward?
  2. Intentionally focus on relationship development. Be aware of what really matters to those who receive your services. Get to know those folks. Genuinely recognize them. Become known as a person who is easy to do business with. 
  3. Keep a list of the A people you would like to work with or for. Keep in contact with them. Always be thinking who could be on your A Team. Work from the premise that you will be able to make that dream A Team come together under your leadership one day. 

Few of us will be in line to lead Google or top tier companies. However ALL of us can get results, develop relationships and coach others. 

Triple A Leadership in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: When playing football, my seasoned, old school head coach would routinely discuss the players he’d want “in his foxhole.” A war reference. Football isn’t war, but those gridiron battles were as close as many of us will ever get, and this reminds me of that. Leadership in the office is similar. Who do you want to fight with? Ideally, someone who ultimately makes you victorious, and has the wherewithal to succeed, survive and ideally thrive. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis