Job Title vs Competence

Jacob Morgan
4 min readJun 5, 2024


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You probably haven’t heard of Magnus Carlsen but he’s been the world chess champion for over the past decade. He’s also the highest rated chess player and champion in blitz (fast), rapid (medium), and classical (slow) chess. Needless to say at age 32 he’s considered to be the world’s greatest chess player ever. If you’ve followed my content, you’ll know that I’m a bit of a chess nut and compete in tournaments, here’s a pic of me playing in San Francisco during the pandemic when masks where mandated.

But what does chess have to do with title and competence and how does it apply to you?

(image from a chess tournament I was playing in near the end of the pandemic where masks were required to play, which made it that much more challenging!)

Magnus recently abdicated his throne in classical chess saying that he didn’t want to compete for the title anymore. Instead, Ding Liren from China and Ian Nepomniachtchi from Russia have been battling out to see who the next champion is going to be. Ding recently won the match in a thrilling game of tie-breaks.

But here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter who the winner is, everyone is still going to consider Magnus to be the world’s greatest chess player and the true world chess champion. Many of the world’t top players and commentators have stated that they all still consider to be Magnus the world champion and that the recent match between Ding and Ian wasn’t really a world championship match,

Why? Because Magnus has clearly shown that he is the best regardless if has a formal title or not. His demonstrated competence is more powerful than a given title.

Inside of our organizations we assume that title = competence but we all know lots of leaders out there with senior level titles who don’t appear to be that competent. Similarly we also know lots of people who don’t have senior titles who appear to be very competent.

You can get a senior title inside of your organizations via all sorts of paths such as navigating office politics, being friends with your boss, staying at the company for a long time, bringing in a lot of money, being really good at your job, and the like.

I remember one CEO (let’s call him Joe) who told me that earlier on his career, he worked at an organization where his boss at the time was a really mean guy and not that good at his job despite his fancy title. Even though Joe didn’t have a senior title he was really good at his job and everyone around him knew it. Eventually people would stop going to Joe’s boss for guidance and they would just go to Joe. Joe never quit the company, he just kept working hard and getting more and more competent. Eventually Joe’s boss got fired and Joe took his spot.

The lesson here is that if you focus on being good at your job then eventually other people will acknowledge you as the leader of a team, even if you don’t have the official title to support it. I’ve interviewed several CEOs over the years who have told me that even though they worked for people who were higher up the corporate food chain, that team members never viewed those people as the actual leaders. Overtime through hard work and focus these now CEOs overtook all of their former leaders.

Of course the ideal scenario is that as you focus on competence, the title will come with it, but that isn’t always the case.

Invest your time on personal enhancement instead of obsessing over advancement. Just because you have the title doesn’t mean you are competent but if you are competent eventually you will get the title.

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Jacob Morgan

4x Best-Selling Author, Speaker, & Futurist. Founder of Exploring Leadership, Employee Experience, & The Future of Work