Image by alex mertzanis/Flickr
Nothing limits your ability to achieve great things more than your desire to take credit for what you have achieved. This paradox is at the center of most problems that companies face.
It boggles my mind, for example, when some leaders take credit for the success of their organization. I think: you are already CEO, you already make $20 million, so why can't you empower the people who work for you instead of further inflating your own ego?
At many firms, employees spend more time worrying about who-is-going-to-get-the-credit than they do about the actual results. This is because compensation and promotion revolves around getting the credit, and also because if you don't get enough credit, then you might actually get fired.
But the fact is that you can accomplish much more, if you don't worry about taking the credit.
Skilled consultants know this; they gently nudge clients in one direction or another, making dozens - if not hundreds - of course corrections. When a job is well managed, clients think all the best ideas were theirs.
A few years back, I engaged in an extended experiment on this front. I have to keep the details fuzzy - because the participants were not aware of my strategy - but over the course of six months my goal was to maximize the impact of my actions while minimizing the perception of my role. In other words, I got a lot of stuff done without anyone realizing my orchestrations.
What amazed me was how easy it was to effect change once my goal was to NOT get credit for the resulting changes. Nudging someone in a certain direction is easy if your only objective is to nudge them slightly. You can share facts, ask innocent questions, and simply react most enthusiastically to the statements they make that support the change you favor.
Here's the cold, hard reality: the tough part about changing the world is getting credit. Just bringing about change is not that hard.
Here are a few places to start:
Set fires under people. Get them excited about their job, a new project, or simply a plan for the future. Again, bear in mind that you are not promoting your plan, but rather an idea that seems disconnected from you. There will be no obvious upside for you, and because of this your credibility will be greater.
Demonstrate by doing. Don't be a do-nothing leader; be a colleague who acts instead of just talks. Through your actions, allow others to see what success looks like.
Take joy in the success of others. Redefine success so that it does not entail a slap on the back for yourself, but rather the satisfaction of knowing deep inside that you accomplished an important goal by empowering others to do their best. This is not entirely altruistic behavior; you will be creating the type of world in which you wish to live, and people will eventually form a subconscious sense that everything works better when you are around.
Allow things time to happen. Change takes time. Just because an idea enters your head does not mean that others will react immediately, especially if you are trying to effect change without taking credit. Be persistent but patient.
Remember this: the higher you are in the chain of command, the greater the impact you can have by sharing credit, or giving it away entirely.
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