27 September 2023

Due credit: Why good leaders always recognise the work of others

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Brian de Haaff* says good leaders can implant an idea into their team in such a way that members actually believe they have thought about it first.

Few actions spark real disgust at work, but I can think of one that never fails to cause a personal fury.

It is when someone takes another person’s idea and presents it as their own.

It is even more annoying when the idea is well received and the taker gets kudos for coming up with such a clever concept in the first place.

However, as a leader, this should be exactly what you want.

Leaders need to share bold ideas and encourage others to adopt and champion those ideas as their own.

Now, I am not saying that co-workers should be stealing one another’s thoughts and running off with the credit.

Nor am I saying that leaders should, or even do, have all of the ideas and answers — although good ones definitely have many.

This is not about group-think either; rather I am referring to a more nuanced paradox.

As a leader, you have to present your ideas with confidence so that others can rally groups of their peers and teammates towards action.

Your team must deeply believe that your ideas are their own.

The success of the organisation depends on your ability to do so. It is a requirement of the job.

This ‘your idea is my idea’ concept can feel a bit unnatural at first, especially for first-time leaders.

You might think it is your role to be the source of all things — to keep the team inspired and focused — but throwing credit to others when they present your ideas as their own is what you should be aiming for.

Why is that?

You have limited interactions:

If the team is growing quickly because of the type of project they are dealing with, there is a rapid contraction of who you interact with on a daily basis.

The team swells and you have fewer opportunities to communicate with all members.

You need others to carry your vision forward as their own.

Your job is to make others great:

The more people who are operating at a high level and being recognised by their peers for it, the more successful the organisation will be.

Your influence needs to be subtle:

Your mission should be shared transparently with the team.

There will be times for edicts, when you need to steer the team in the direction you know is needed.

Or when you need to make a tough decision because different groups are seeing different paths.

Most often, your role is to lead through sharing insights and allowing others to reach the right conclusion.

You are a teacher:

Part of helping others is by asking tough questions, the kind that help others refine their ideas and align with what you think is right.

This means that you do not need to verbally share all of the answers.

You nurture and develop people to the point where their conclusions to difficult challenges are what you would have said from the beginning.

You do not need praise:

Ego is a trap; it snags too many ambitious leaders who have had early success.

You need to get comfortable letting others shine.

Remember that each team member’s success is your success too — even if no one else recognises that.

All of this requires a trait not always associated with leadership — selfless service to others.

You need to have both self-confidence and a willingness to sacrifice self-recognition.

When you can straddle these two selves, you can propel others forward.

I am definitely not suggesting that it is easy, but it is the best way I know to grow a team and work with happy people while you do it.

*Brian de Haaff is the Chief Executive of cloud-based software company Aha! He can be contacted on Twitter@bdehaaff.

This article first appeared on the Aha! company website.

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