“Acting” Titles Don’t Fly With Me

by Denny Strigl

I met with an old friend this week.  In the course of the conversation we got around to his job.  He told me things were going very well for him at work and he “thinks” he has been promoted.  Naturally I asked, “Why do you think you have been promoted? It seems to me either you were or you weren’t.”  He went on to say his vice president named him to the position of acting director  of customer service.  I said, “Congratulations, but if you don’t mind my asking, what’s the difference between an acting director and a real director?”  As expected my friend told me he really wasn’t sure, but thought maybe his boss wasn’t certain that he would do a good job and might have to be removed, or perhaps his boss was considering someone else for the “real” job.

I know “acting” titles are often used in the business world.  I think they send a very mixed message.  The person who is named to the acting position is usually left to wonder, as did my friend, why they are acting and for how long.  Other people in the organization are often left to think the person filling the acting position will only be in the job temporarily until someone better qualified is found to fill the job.   This creates uncertainty and can work against the individual’s ability to succeed.

Whenever I heard someone was “acting” I almost always privately asked their bosses why the individual was acting and not real.  The usual responses I heard were because they weren’t sure the individual could do the job and they wanted to try out the person in the position to determine if he or she could do the job, or the budget wasn’t available, or there was a freeze on promotions.  My response was always the same:  Drop the acting title and appoint the individual to the “real” position right away.  Remove the acting stigma from the individual’s title and give them a fair chance to succeed!  The individual will have more confidence, and his or her direct reports can give their full commitment to their new boss.  And frankly, I would be remiss if I didn’t say, if the individual doesn’t succeed after they have been given ample time and opportunity, remove them from the job.  (As discussed in Chapter 7, The Mindset of Successful Managers, in Managers, Can You Hear Me Now?, good managers don’t throw people under the bus, but they know when to let them off.)

In my opinion acting titles should be used only when the person who is the “real” manager is away from the job for reasons such as a leave of absence (military, maternity, health related, training, etc.) in which there is an expectation that the individual will return.  In such cases, ideally, the person appointed to the acting position will be told he or she will be in the acting position for a specific (or approximate) period of time pending the return of the individual on leave.  I do not believe the term acting should be used for any other reason because it sends the wrong message both to the individual and to the organization.

The most successful leaders I’ve worked with over the years worked hard to help their people succeed.  When they promoted new managers, they focused on giving them the tools and support they needed.  I will be the first to tell you that managers I promoted were not always ready to be promoted, but they were always worth giving a chance to assume more responsibility and grow into the new job.

One Response to “Acting” Titles Don’t Fly With Me

  1. tjelrod says:

    Well said. Could not Agree more!

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