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The Perils of Taking, and Giving, Credit

Eagerly sought and often fiercely contested, credit for an idea or great work is valuable currency in modern organizations. Here's how to cash in without doing collateral damage

Bill Cooper (Queen's School of Business) and colleague William Graham (Royal Military College) discuss the art and practice of taking credit for good ideas or successful initiatives. What's the psychology behind taking credit? Is it always about power? What role can managers play in discouraging inappropriate credit taking? How does the issue differ if you're early in your career versus an experienced leader?

Cooper is a QSB professor researching and teaching in the areas of organizational theory and behaviour. Graham is an associate professor in management and economics at RMC.

Video Highlights

0:10    Credit falsely claimed, research project born
While working in an organization, Cooper observed during a meeting how an idea advanced by a junior female employee was appropriated by a senior male manager, who was given credit and kudos for the idea. "It was about power and opportunity," says Cooper. "Nobody corrected the record about whose idea it actually was."

1:17    What are the dynamics behind credit taking?
Narcissists are "credit hogs" but motive plays a role as well. Earning credit, after all, is invaluable in building and advancing a career. Let's not forget the power of rationalization: In taking credit for work, people may feel they are making up for earlier times when they were contributions were not acknowledged.

3:58    The role of management
Disengaged managers can make matters worse when they ignore falsely claimed credit or are unaware of who is really responsible for work performed. By contrast, managers practising "quiet leadership" eagerly offer their employees opportunities to earn quality facetime with senior leaders and gain credit for their work.  

5:27   Rough justice
Cooper recounts the time when a new member of a research lab team took an idea the team developed and presented it in a setting where he received all the credit. "A little while later, this credit taker tried to form his own team within the same research lab and no one would join it."

6:30    Rules and transparency
Two ways to keep credit-taking honest is to establish team protocols on how to deal with the issue and to create an environment of transparency. 

7:58    Approaches for junior and mid-level employees
To start off on the right foot, junior employees can consider talking to their bosses about how credit is taken and given while expressing the need to build their profile within the organization. Mid-level employees need to be sensitive to organizational cues for when it's appropriate to claim credit without coming across as a credit mongerer.

9:03    The audience decides
Credit is ephemeral. "It's up to the audience to decide whether you deserve credit or not. . . That makes it contested terrain that people can have different opinions about, but sometimes it means justice prevails."

Interview by Alan Morantz

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