How to Share Credit without Losing Any

LeadershipI made a mistake when I was twenty years old that has stuck with me my whole career.

It was the summer before my senior year at West Point and I was half-way across the world and half-way through a five-week stint playing the role of an Army aviation platoon leader. I had come a long way in the few weeks since I showed up as a clueless cadet. At the very least, I had figured out a few of the symbols on a status report, so I was no longer making a fool of myself at maintenance meetings.

The mistake came in a meeting I had with the company leadership. During the meeting, my commander asked me about the status of a few missions he had given me, one of which was transporting one of our tugs to another Army airfield. I had delegated the mission to my platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Fletcher, who had taken care of the whole thing and given me confirmation that it had arrived. When Captain Pippin asked if I had gotten the tug to Gieblestadt, I said, “Yes, sir. It arrived yesterday afternoon.”

After the meeting the XO pulled me aside. “You missed a big opportunity in there,” he said.

“Really?” I was genuinely surprised. I felt like I was finally getting the hang of this.

“Sure, you’re getting things done,” he admitted, “but, that’s the easy part. The hard part is the leading.”

“What do you mean?”

“When the CO asked if you got the tug to Gieb, you just said, ‘yes’. You should have said, ‘Yes, sir. Sergeant Fletcher made it happen. We heard from them yesterday that it had arrived.’ You see, if you had said that, you still would have gotten the credit—you’re the leader, you made it happen—but Sergeant Fletcher gets the credit as well. Never pass up a chance to let your soldiers shine.”

Reflecting on this later, I realized that I didn’t want to share the limelight with Sergeant Fletcher. I thought sharing the limelight meant I would get less of it. Not so. Sharing credit as a leader doesn’t diminish your share of the recognition, it enhances it. Which is more impressive: getting things done or equipping, encouraging, and empowering a team of others that gets things done?

How are you at sharing the credit as a leader?

15 thoughts on “How to Share Credit without Losing Any”

  1. As a follower, I am much more encouraged by my leaders praising specific things I’ve accomplished (and which I know they know about), then in flattering me with generalities.

    I’d much rather hear phrases like “Thanks for the follow-through on Joe–that’s going to make a big difference in connecting him with the team” than “You’re doing a great job!”

    And when my leader publicly shares credit for something I accomplished on his watch?

    Pure gold.

  2. Sir, I still remember with great fondness the 1-72 AR CALFEX you empowered me with planning and executing at MPRC. I carry with me still the lessons, not only the tactical lessons I learned, but also in how you mentored and inspired me to lead as a PL. Thank you for that.

  3. Great post Geoffrey! As a Team Leader, when giving credit, I encourage my team to recognize their peers for actions above and beyond. I find that this helps to build team unity along with helping the introverted team members break out of their shell.

  4. When I was first starting out as a photographer I worked as an assistant and second shooter for a really amazing photographer named Kristen. She was not just a great photographer, but a great mentor as well.

    We shot a wedding together one day where I learned in a very real way that there is a difference between being beautiful and being photogenic. The bride was stunning, but was unexpectedly very difficult to photograph. When all of the editing was done and Kristen was giving me some constructive feedback she said to me “You got the best shot of the bride in the entire wedding.” I remember thinking to myself – Wow! I hope I have that kind of confidence someday.

    I think sometimes our own insecurity prevents us from sharing credit – as if recognizing someone’s talent or ability somehow diminishes our own. But that’s just not true. Kristen was completely confident in her own abilities, but she was willing to recognize that on that day, I happened to get the shot. And that inspired me, not just as a photographer.

    1. I love this story, Mrs. Webb. I’ve seen this same confident, generous spirit at work in you. It’s one of the things that makes you so beautiful—not just photogenic ;)

  5. Geoff
    Great point. I think it takes humility for leaders to pass on the credit. But if your team knows you will pass the credit they will go to great lengths to get the job done. Being able to pass the credit will build a stronger team and organization. I focus on maintaining my humility so that when I need to pass the credit, I will do it. Thank you for sharing.

    Dan

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