Thursday, March 13, 2008

Does 'Moniker' Matter?

I visited the Aspen Institute today and met with a couple of their program officers about leadership development.  The Aspen Institute describes itself as "an international nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering enlightened leadership and open-minded dialogue."  

It is luxury leadership development.  

Mark, who heads up Aspen's Socrates program, pushed me to think about what Moniker is for.  At the end of the day, what good does Moniker offer to the world?  Am I thinking hard enough about that question?  "Servant leadership" is what he called it -- leading change because you want to make things better.  

And I realized we can always be thinking harder.  

For me, Moniker's meaning has always been about an idea that I want to see strengthened in the world.  

'Moniker' - the name you give yourself.  Unfortunately, we live in a world where one's name is never enough.  We meet random people in a bar, and as soon as we say our name, we have to say what we DO, or WHO we know, or HOW MUCH power/money/influence we have...we try, in one way or another, to convince other people that we matter.  

One's name is never enough.  You have to have a title.  President.  Director.  Senator.  Author.  Actor.  Journalist. XXXX Scholar or Fellow.  

A title is power.  A title forces other people to acknowledge, to respect.  And we ourselves take comfort in our titles -- comfort in knowing that we compare well against those who don't have them, or don't have enough.

But it occurs to me: this is an ugly way to look at the world.  What is a title?  It's public recognition of some past accomplishment.  It looks to the past.  It's closed.  It's over.  When I tell you my title, I'm trying to bring recognition of my past victories into the present.  I want you to recognize what I've done.  I want you to recognize my power.

But when I tell you my name, I'm not doing any of that.  My name says nothing about what I've done.  In fact, it was given to me before I did ANYthing -- the day I was born.  My name doesn't speak to my past at all.  

But it does speak to my future.  It speaks to possibility.  What might 'Christopher' do?  What might 'Christopher' create?  What might 'Christopher' discover?  Anything.  It's an open field.  That's the beauty of a person's name: instead of forcing attention to what they've done in the past, it invites attention to who they are, and what they might do.  It's a different way of looking at the world.  It's not about power.  It's about inner strength.

For me, Moniker is about this different perspective.  It's about respecting one another, not for what we've already done, but for who we are and what we might yet do.  

I wrote a memo to my team -- to Victoria and Kam and Kristin, I'm so fortunate to be on this journey with them -- last week, when I said, "Our vision is to make every name a mark of luxury."

To make every name a mark of luxury.  

Your name is on every suit Moniker makes -- and it should be.  Your name should be a mark of pride, of strength, of possibility.  I can tell a lot about a person, just by knowing he's wearing Louis Vuitton.  But your own label?  Your own moniker?  I assume nothing.  All is original future.  Waiting to be discovered.  Waiting to be lived.

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