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If you want more recognition, take credit for your ideas

Coach's Corner--November 9, 2009

The Client
Name: James
Age: 42
Title: Marketing manager
Industry: Medical device company
Issue: Combatting idea thieves
Q. I pride myself on having good ideas and doing good work quietly without a lot of flash.  However, I’m getting tired of other people — including my boss — taking credit for my contributions. Suggestions?

A. If you want more recognition, let the people around you know that you’re stepping up.

The inner game
It’ll help to have a vision for how you’d like to interact and be perceived. If you accept that you’ll need to become more self-promoting, then your goal will be to create a vision of visibility that is appealing and fits with your general temperament.

Explore the reasons for your quiet approach. Do you have positive or negative beliefs about people who draw attention to themselves? If your perspective is positive, then consider the reasons that you’ve held back. If negative, create positive alternatives to the negative images. Your beliefs about “taking credit” may go quite deep, and will influence your outer actions. You may, for example, have lacked confidence or have had other barriers that you’ve addressed.

Consider ways in which your current style is effective for you and your company.  You’ll also need to look at ways that your current style isn’t helping. Don’t rationalize; soft-pedaling with yourself won’t help you get where you want to be. Ask yourself, for example, “Would my ideas have made a difference if someone else hadn’t picked up the ball?”

Now look at others’ behavior. Get inside their shoes and try to understand what’s motivating them. Power? Attention? Getting things done? Is it even conscious? It’ll vary, so consider each individual. This isn’t to excuse them; it’s a useful way to plan how to change the situation.

The outer game
These situations tend to happen if good ideas aren’t being championed by their originator. So, two areas of action will help you: filling any void that your understated approach has caused, and letting people know that you’re doing so.

When dealing with your boss, balance tact and directness, planning the most effective strategy to make your point. Consider having a conversation about development goals, including ways to have a more visible presence. You may be as direct as acknowledging that you’ve stayed in the background in the past, but feel ready to step up and advocate for your own ideas. Ask for support for that and feedback on ways that you can be more effective.

With other co-workers, take responsibility for protecting your ideas. If you have an especially good idea in a meeting, document it by a follow-up e-mail, being selective about the ideas you actively champion. Sometimes new ideas get lost in the shuffle, so idea snitches can easily claim them. Use humor: “Didn’t I just say that?” With repeat offenders, you may need to have an explicit conversation. If this is stressful, plan ahead so that you’re organized in your message, calm, and energized. Acknowledge others’ ideas and contributions; you’ll build good will and others will watch your back.

The last word
Over the course of a career, people evolve in the role they want to play. When you’re ready for more visibility, it’s up to you to take action.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted November 9, 2009
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