Leadership: You’re in Charge. Who Get’s the Credit?

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This topic contains 38 replies, has 17 voices, and was last updated by  Dorothy Ramienski Amatucci 8 years, 6 months ago.

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  • #150186

    David Dejewski

    Dorothy Amatucci got me thinking when she wrote:

    “Someone once told me that a good leader is one who gives everyone else around him/her most of the credit. I have found that I am willing to follow anyone who does this, no matter the organization.”

    She was responding to a GovLoop Blog post titled “Leadership: Learning By Doing.”

    I don’t think Dorothy is alone. I’ve heard that a lot over the years. I’ve also heard that good leaders accept credit (responsibility) for stuff that goes wrong, and pass credit for victories on to their staffs.

    I don’t disagree with this. If you do, please leave a comment because we all enjoy a good discussion!

    Something about this credit thing has plagued me for a long time. Sure, I’ve done my best to pass on the credit to my staffs – even in times when they didn’t lift a finger. I loved giving kudos and saying thank you. It was probably my favorite part of the job.

    I’ve also done my best to accept responsibility for failures. I didn’t this find too difficult because I truly did feel responsible. If something surprised me & I had nothing to do with directly, or if my staff did the opposite of what I asked them to do, I always figured that was an indicator of something I needed to work on. Maybe I was out of touch, not communicating well enough, or not monitoring the way I should.

    Here’s the real problem that kicked my butt more than once: It’s what I call

    Black Box vs Bragging

    Black Box vs Bragging works like this: You’re responsible for a corporate function and you have to decide to either stay invisible – often letting other Divisions or functions take the credit for something; or stand up, take the credit, and shower your people with Kudos. Black Box = quietly keep things running. Bragging = tell everyone the great things you’re (your function) doing.

    The use case I’m thinking of as I write occurred when I was a Chief Information Officer (CIO). I was responsible for a function. Everything related to information, computers, information security, network management, IT policy, coding, application selection, purchasing, and technology education fell under my area of authority. We had a great classroom, an awesome life-cycle management plan, top security – both classified and unclassified, and awesome customer service. Seriously, we did a customer service survey one year that produced 42 pages of commentary with not a single negative comment.

    I knew that my teams contributed a great deal to the success of our organization; but IT was a function that was under appreciated, poorly understood by most “functional” leaders and usually relegated to the basement and windowless closets. Negative events got a LOT of attention, but the countless number of “saves,” “rescues,” and problem avoidance measures that my staffs contributed were usually ignored as non-events.

    I thought that quietly keeping the lights on, adding automation of business functions, fending off bad guy hackers from the middle east and Asia, and keeping the negative events to a minimum was noble. We were there – adding tremendous value and doing heroic things while many of my Board of Director colleagues talked constantly about what they felt was important. Sometimes it was. Other times, it was hot air.

    I publicly recognized my staffs for all the things the organization found acceptable to reward IT staffs with: great customer service, a spectacular recovery from a power surge, overcoming international obstacles to get information into and out of Iraq… but there was so much more they did! They heard “thank you!” from me almost every night & they knew they were appreciated – by me.

    The problem, I later discovered, was that NO ONE ELSE KNEW how great my staff was except for me. My staffs were liked and always welcome, but the organization didn’t know how dependent, and frankly spoiled, they were by what my staffs were doing and who they were.

    A few years later, amid budget concerns, my function was outsourced to different vendors. I was kept in place, and many of my staffs were picked up, but the damage to the team was done. Morale was crushed. Team members now worked for rival companies. Over the following year, things fell apart and service really suffered. I blamed myself for not bragging more.


    What are YOUR thoughts on Bragging vs Black Box? Should leaders take every opportunity to brag about what their team are doing, or should take the “quiet noble” route – do great things, but keep the good stuff under the hood?

  • #150262

    Glad to have been of inspiration! I like your post, mainly because I think it highlights the importance of not only giving your team members feedback, but sharing information outside of one’s immediate realm, as well.

  • #150260

    Was there a public place where you could have posted the team “wins” for others to see as they casually walked by – a brag board of sorts. It could have been meant for you, but just so happened to be in a place that was visible to the people you’re trying to bring value.

    What about a weekly email that recognizes successes on the team, shared with the team…but forwarded to key stakeholders?

    Was there a reporting structure that would have allowed for a bulleted list of success?

    I don’t mean to oversimplify and recognize that some of these options could be problematic / political…but wanted to throw out some practical suggestions for discussion.

  • #150258

    Joe Williams

    I do a variant of the suggestion that Andrew mentions. The weekly status email is for the stakeholders, only. I provide a major report once per major milestone (roughly monthly), highlighting the accomplishments of the team and key difference-making contributions by individual team members. During our various out-briefings, the team members also get to chime in. This seems to strike a good balance between bragging on the team members yet not making it sound so trite that I do it all the time and thus might desensitize the team members from doing good work, or that I’m patronizing. I’m still tweaking and refining this approach…seems to work so far.

  • #150256

    Dick Davies

    Explaining to the world your team’s accomplishments, specifically and often, defines the team members roles and level of expertise. I don’t want to spend my life shoveling up behind the mediocre.

  • #150254

    Peter Sperry

    You cannot share what you do not have. Most of the great corporate, government and military leaders I’ve studied made it a point to share credit for success with their team, right after they claimed the credit in the first place. Often they claimed and shared credit in the same statement. “This team has accomplished more than any other in persuit of whatever goal” Bragging is a good if you can back it up and winners are not afraid to claim victory. You absolutley must make sure your team recieves recognition for their accomplishments. How will that happen if the leader is shy about claiming that recognition for them.

  • #150252

    David Dejewski

    These are great suggestions, Joe!

  • #150250

    David Dejewski

    Dick, I’m not sure what “shoveling up behind the mediocre” means in this context.

    Can you explain a little more about what you mean by “defin(ing) the team members role and level of expertise?”

  • #150248

    David Dejewski

    Peter – I think I understand your point. I like the concept of claiming victory and sharing credit in the same statement. That’s a good thing!

  • #150246

    David Dejewski

    Here is potentially some new information to consider: In the case I described above, claiming victory and sharing credit were pretty easy to do for things that fell within what others believed were in our lane. We did that often.

    It got sticky in cases where other Directors were claiming the same victory, and/or the subject matter of the victory was perceived to be in another Directorate’s lane. To claim our role would diminish those other Directorates sovereign claim over those functional areas, & set up political tension with people (other Directors) I preferred to keep as allies. To allow some other Directorate to claim the victory made them look good, and I believed earned our Directorate favor – which we would cash in later.

    The Acquisition Directorate, for example, did not want to admit that their 45+ day process for evaluating vendors competing for multi-award task orders (after all the paperwork was submitted) was unreasonably slow, or that my teams found a way to use automation do the same analysis in under five minutes. They accepted the standardizing and programming we had done for them – and they loved it! but when it came time for the award, they claimed the prize.

    To be sure, there are politics involved in claiming victories around the Board of Director’s table in a way that doesn’t offend anyone. There are good reasons to sacrifice a claim to victory in order to strengthen your Directorate position in other ways. My staff never felt unrewarded or unappreciated. I made sure of that. They told me often that they felt appreciated. But at the level above them, Directorates jockeyed for attention. I chose not to play.

    By my way of thinking, actions speak louder than words. We didn’t need to say we were great or fight for scraps of attention. We just needed to be professional, do our jobs well, and improve on our own track record. Morale was high and staffs in my Directorate knew they rocked! Other Directorates, however, seemed insecure by comparison.

    Considering the outcome, I was missing something.

  • #150244

    Wendy Reynolds

    Peggy Klaus wrote a wonderful book called “Brag! The art of tooting your own horn without blowing it”. Read this. It gives you great methods for getting your team’s story out without sounding obnoxious. It also, more importantly, gives you permission to tell those stories – about your own accomplishments, or your team’s.

    You’ve already seen what quiet nobility gets you.

  • #150242

    David Dejewski

    Great suggestion, Peggy! Thanks for sharing that resource!

  • #150240

    Steve Ressler

    There’s also another way of bragging. Which is package it as something your boss can brag s/he did. As they say, make the boss look good.

    In the ideal world for something new like the IT dashboard, as the CIO I’d want the President demoing it and talking how great it was and thanking the staff. Almost cut me out of the equation. Go up and down.

  • #150238

    Corey McCarren

    I think that there’s a time and a place. If you need to prove to someone/another department that yours of efficient, then it’s fine to make sure its noticeable, but in the same vein nobody wants to hear everything your department is doing. Brag about the big things and let the people who care notice the little things.

  • #150236

    David Dejewski

    I’d buy into that approach. Thanks, Corey!

  • #150234

    Michael Del-Colle

    I absolutely agree with your observations. I would even go so far as to suggest that when the supervisor or manager gets beaten up by the ‘higer-ups’ they return to the office/team and calmly discuss with staff the error [if it was an error] without themselves handing anyone their head. Generally, staff know when a mistake has been made; a good supervisor deals with a problem in a way that does not make staff hesitant to be creative or innovative. Worry rarely moves things forward.

  • #150232

    Craig Harmon

    You beat me to it. Some of us would rather work our magic behind the scenes and let the directorate present and take the fame – especially if they do acknowledge us/staff – the Wizards of Oz behind the curtain. If they look good, we all look good. I think the important point is that the credit is shared. This, in turn, increases team work/spirit – further fueling future challenges.

  • #150230

    David Dejewski

    Michael – nice introduction of the manager as a shield! Good ones will do whatever it takes to make sure their staff have a healthy environment to grow in.

  • #150228

    David Dejewski

    It’s exactly this to Wizard or not to Wizard issue that I wrestled with, Craig. That’s a good way to think about it. What might you do differently, if anything, if you were the Director?

  • #150226


    ” KARO PEHELE KAHO PEECHE” – Mahatma Gandhi

    I am still OK with this – Do first and then tell

  • #150224

    Henry Brown

    Been involved with 3 major downsizing over my career: When what we were doing was NOT well known the result was the loss of resources (once). The results in another case was, while some realignment was required, no resources were lost and in another case the “customer service” branch actually gained resources.

    Would add, that if you can get the other organizational leaders to recognize your team’s accomplishments it will go a long way to limit the impact of budget rightsizing.

  • #150222

    David Dejewski

    I have to agree, Henry. How well we communicate is correlated to resources. Good point.

  • #150220

    Rachel Kaberon

    Value is the only thing that matters, are you bringing it or spending it? I’m not keen on the cost center solution when everyone gets “charged” for what they use to justify a central function but I do believe that it’s important to keep the evaluation system up and running at all times. It’s one thing to be the black box and be sure that everything is running smoothly, no one wants to be dependent but sure as heck when the things we count on aren’t there or aren’t working, it’s hell for everyone.

    I guess my question is that it’s not important to brag, but it is important to continuously demonstrate the value you bring to the organization especially the decision-makers. Sure you need to send the quality metrics up your own chain of command, but you also need to make time to get to know the other functions that you are serving and use your team to stay in touch or on top of their needs and embed yourselves into their initial planning.

    IT folks are often underestimated as problem solvers, and by forcing your team to be a regular collaborator and help the users see that they have more to offer you’ve done the best thing for everyone. Another way to look at this is to keep sharing ROA reports…or the returns that come form the assets you are managing. Do what you can to increase demand on the functions in your area that bring greater value to folks outside of your area. For example, if you are an IT manager, what systems or tools could people be using more to get greater efficieincy?

    It’s not enough to brag that you deliver, it’s about helping and encouraging proper usage to create even greater beneifts for all parties. As you can tell, I’m more than a little passionate about this stuff. The only value to a black box is post mortem, after the accident. Don’t make the mistake that bragging will avert outsourcing pressures, but if you create value that wasn’t present, or if you contribute to another team’s higher performance and they know it because your team was there holding their hands and guiding them along the way, THEN you’ll be able to tabulate and demonstrate exactly what kind of a value ADD your function brings.

    I’ve written more examples of this on my blog, encourage you to check it out.

  • #150218

    Craig Harmon

    Good points Rachel. Your mention of underestimated I/T folks brings up another topic: Proactive vs. “Postactive”. Instead of “bragging” after achievements, why not consistently promote what our department/teams is/are capable of doing to help achieve overall org goals – the visions, the missions, etc..

    Our Shared Services department (including I/T) began the process of doing just this after we recently assisted them in a much needed re-branding. They were often called upon to solve problems after they became emergencies. Of course this will always remain part of the job description, but now they’re taking a more proactive role in collaborating with departments and educating them on purpose and possibilities so everyone can plan ahead and make more informed decisions. They’re not just putting out the fires, but preventing them.

    Everyone can benefit from positive PR – we just have to generate it… and if we’re lucky, it’ll balance out the negatives if/when they surface.

  • #150216

    David Dejewski

    Creating value isn’t somethng this team had trouble with. I suspect that we made it look too easy. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that my fellow Directors believed anyone could do what my teams did.
    I reported to one person – the Commanding Officer – no one in between. Two quotes from her might help to reveal the nature of that relationship. Both were delivered behind a closed door, and both were, to me, unforgettable.
    The first came soon after her arrival (I had accepted the position a few years earlier):
    “I don’t know what you do or how you do it, and I don’t want to know. Just keep us out of trouble and tell me what to say and when to say it. “Take me by the back of the head like this, and tell me when I should say yes or no. Do you understand?”

    The second came at the end of our relationship a few years later – after the outsourcing issue I described above, and after I had accepted a new position with a higher level agency:
    “Dave, we didn’t know what a CIO was or that we even needed one. You taught us stuff we didn’t know we didn’t know. You delivered above and beyond anything we could have imagined.”

    She told me that she regretted how things had turned out, but the real impact of that decision wasn’t known to me until two years later. The command called me up and asked if I would help with the selection of a new CIO.

    As evidenced by writing this post, I still think I could have or should have done something more – like brag more about the awesomeness (a GovLoop influenced word) of my staff and the value they created as a team. The focus and synergy of those professionals was unbelievable.

    To say I was proud of them is an understatement. Had that Command really known the full extent of the value they created, or more importantly – what the Command would lose by breaking up that team, maybe they wouldn’t have made the decision they did.
    It was my responsibility. I chose the level of communication – what to share or not to share. The outcome was ultimately my report card.

  • #150214

    Rachel Kaberon

    Craig ..great to hear, I bet you will also see some higher performance within your own team as a result of their ability to help others solve problems Upstream and get some credit in the process!! You might consider creating some metrics to track and share the results with the management to encourage further cross-organization pollination and problem solving.

  • #150212

    Rachel Kaberon

    Dave, you hit the nail on the head. It’s not the inability to create value that was the problem…it was your inability to communicate it. That is something you can easily remedy. The challenge is to help finance know in the language of finance what the added value of their uptime automation and ledger systems is worth to them. Or to marketing what the value of their enterprise communciations systems contributes, or if you have some collaborative platforms like video conferencing that folks aren’t using..let your directors in on the secrete to cost saving by smarter usage of these platforms. Communicate the value you create using the metrics the organization monitors, the ones that matter to them!

    You obviously are a great diplomat and are good at helping others look good, but if you don’t work at helping them more fully utilize the tools and advantages the systems and platforms that your department provides, you are selling both your team and the organization short …no one is getting the full benefits and that includes the natural rush that comes from being appreciated.

  • #150210

    David Dejewski

    You may be on to something, Rachel. I’m going to think out loud:
    We were not lacking in metrics. We had them on all the usual IT suspect: uptime, speed, security threats, customer service response times, customer satisfaction and delight, etc. we had applied cost figures to everything we could. We even tracked printer, toner and paper usage; discovered the optimal cost-saving configuration for the different pieces of hardware based on local employee printing patterns and job description, and posted heat maps on hallway walls (I still have these if anyone is interested) to show where costs were highest and lowest. I was the process owner for several ISO 9000 issues (tracked and presented monthly) and a co-lead on others. The numbers were always stellar, and all my staffs were trained in the languages of finance and contracting.
    The metrics “that they cared about” is another matter. I did find it challenging to come up with a metric that showed how our service was helping the Defense Department position medical supplies or deliver immunizations more effectively, for example. For the most part, my Directorate supplied technology tools and kept them running securely. Other Directorates used those tools to order supplies, manage contracts, develop standards for nomenclature, etc.
    In cases where you suggest we create value outside our area – as when my staffs used these tools and their expertise to reduce the multiple award task order contract evaluation process from 45 days to under five minutes – things get political.
    The question of taking credit for things outside of an area (in this case, proving that our Directorate was more than a cost center), is bigger than capturing and displaying metrics. It’s involves forging and honoring social contracts – giving other Directors a chance to shine for the things they are doing – sharing the credit for a job well done organization-wide – not being greedy.
    As evidenced by 42 pages worth of positive customer satisfaction data, my teams were well liked and effective in the “box” they were in. I think my failure was an inability to communicate the fact that this wasn’t just a good group of people doing a job well. This was a team with synergy that provided value well beyond what the data could easily show.
    The data we shared was clean, prolific, and indisputable. The “mojo,” however, was not so easily quantifyable. It was something that others wanted or took for granted. It could not be costed (if you know a way, please share!) or replicated by wording in a new contract.

    I’m serious when I say, if you or someone else on this string can show me how to capture and display a “mojo” metric that communicates the value that morale, commitment, synergy, and going above and beyond adds to an organization, I will buy you a cup of coffee in the coffee shop of your choice. Disclaimer: You must be within short range driving distance (under an hour) of my office, but it’s yours for the taking. 🙂

  • #150208

    David Dejewski

    Coffee Offer: this offer extends to anyone who feels up to the challenge. Read the last paragraph of my reply to Rachel. The first person who can come up with a way to capture and display the “mojo” metric I described, coffee is on me!
    To be fair, if you’re outside my area, I’ll send you a gift card!

  • #150206

    Jaqi Ross

    I have a handy reminder hanging in my office:

    “If everything goes well, we did it. If something goes right, you did it. If anything goes wrong, I did it.”

    While each individual on your staff will have his or her own perspective on and appreciation of public praise, it’s our responsibility as leaders to promote the work our teams do. At the bare minimum, it helps clarify our own contributions to the organization’s success. If you’re doing everything you can to engage your staff and provide meaningful work, you automatically get some of the credit – especially so when you’re a big enough person not to lay claim to it when you’re sharing your stories.

    The good news is that promoting your staff doesn’t have to be as formal as a weekly report or a reliable metric. Did your staff pull off some amazing feat? Mention it the next time you see your boss on the elevator or are making small talk before the teleconference begins. Did your budget analyst spot a chance to save a bundle of cash, but hates being singled out publicly? Throw a bullet into your quarterly review that highlights the savings without pointing fingers.

    For me, the “black box” mentality is a disservice not only to the organization (think of all the folks who might benefit from the services your folks provide, if only they knew about them in the first place!), but, more importantly, your staff. People of all backgrounds thrive when given the opportunity to make a difference by doing meaningful work that has an impact. How can any project make a difference if the only person doing the appreciating is the boss? Put another way, if a tree falls in the woods, does the bigger tree next to it care a whit what noise it makes?

  • #150204

    Jeffrey Levy

    First, I’m 100% with you on passing on credit and taking blame. I do both whenever I can.

    As to your bigger question, I think you have to do some bragging. I don’t go overboard, but I do a few specific things:

    1. Share progress reports frequently (say, a few times/month). Not “WE ROCK!” in this case, but more “here’s something that went right yesterday.” Quieter than out-and out bragging, but still present, and again, not a rare thing. This is also effective when you’re regularly updating people on what’s up so that only some of the reports are blatantly positive, while most are just keeping people up to speed.
    2. Brag. Seriously brag. But it has to be about your team, not you: “I’m really proud of how my team handled X” or “Did you guys know that yesterday, A and B on my team shut down an attack from M?”
    3. Share kudos you get from others. I do this especially with my supervisor and *her* supervisor: “Hey, just passing along a really nice note from Z about A on my team.”

    Putting it in terms of something my team does, these might look like:

    1. As my team preps to launch a new social media campaign, I mention it a few times in the month prior at our daily management meetings: “FYI, we’re pursuing a new concept, where we’re going to blah blah.” Maybe a new idea pops up during our run-up: “As I mentioned last week, we’re going to blah blah, and yesterday, we added yadda yadda.”
    2. The day after the launch, I send out an email with some stats showing successes and I bring it up at that day’s management meeting: “It went really well; here are some readership and engagement stats.”
    3. When someone outside our org compliments what we did, I send that to my boss and her boss.
  • #150202

    David Dejewski

    Awesome feedback, Jaqi. Great insights and I love the quote you left. Consider it stolen. 🙂

  • #150200

    David Dejewski

    Jeff – this is great practical advice. Thanks for sharing! Your team is lucky to have you!

    Things were slightly different in the case I used above. I was the senior “tree” as Jaqi put it. The boss’s boss with a Deputy. There was only one person to go to and I described that relationship earlier. The only bragging I could do was at a peer level with other Directors – a political thing. The dynamic is a little different than if I were a first or second line manager reporting up a chain of command, but your points are well made and accepted with gratitude. 🙂

  • #150198

    Jeffrey Levy

    FYI, Jaqi’s one of the smartest people you’ll ever meet. 🙂

    I especially like her point about how others can’t benefit from what your team offers if they don’t know you exist. That’s a conscious reason for me to spread stats and success stories for my team. Part of my job is evangelizing excellent use of the web and social media, and that means letting people know we’re there to help them figure this stuff out.

    You can also use those opportunities to dispel myths. One of my favorite windmills to tilt at is the notion that email’s dead as a communications tool. I love sharing that our most popular items are email subscription lists, with numbers far higher than any social media following.

  • #150196

    Jeffrey Levy

    I honestly don’t know a metric. And based on your post and your followup comments, I suspect you’re being too hard on yourself.

    How about this, though: asking your former boss for some details. What did she mean, specifically, about how you took care of things she didn’t even now needed taking care of? Maybe you can get useful intel from her for the future.

  • #150194

    David Dejewski

    LOL… Thanks, Jeff, but that former boss retired several years ago. I haven’t seen her in almost a decade. And you’re right. I’m being too hard on myself, but it makes for great dialog, yes? I don’t mind giving a former version of myself a hard time and presenting a real case study. The issues haven’t changed much.
    What she meant was: she had no understanding or appreciation for the role of the CIO when she arrived – I was that Command’s first official CIO. Many think of that role as a “chief techie” vs a peer professional on the Board of Directors. When our relationship started, she just didn’t want my area to be a problem for her. She didn’t understand it and basically told me to just take care of things and not to bother her much. She knew, by the time our relationship was over, the value a CIO could deliver to an organization.

  • #150192

    David Dejewski

    BTW: the coffe offer still stands. I’d love to see what a mojo metric would look like. Racheal sent me a note to say she’s working on it in Chicago – which is awesome!
    I’m thinking she might win that coffee card. 😉

  • #150190

    David Dejewski

    I agree! Rachel provided an awesome insight.
    Just don’t call getting the word out “marketing.” LOL. I’ve seen that word attacked in government forums before. LOL

  • #150188

    Charles A. Ray

    There’s always a fine line between bragging and promoting your people, but telling the world what your staff has done, as far as I’m concerned, is one of a leader’s responsibilities. It can be done without sounding like bragging, and your own role, which should be creating the environment so that your followers can do great things, shouldn’t be mentioned. Those who count will know that as leader, you bask in the reflected glory of your subordinates’ accomplishments. It also goes without saying that when things go wrong, as leader, you accept responsibility, and quietly take actions to correct them.

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