Credit where it’s due: the powerful leadership practice of sharing the spotlight

04 May 2022

Credit where it’s due: the powerful leadership practice of sharing the spotlight

Leaders who ensure their teams get the credit for their efforts reap rewards at both the corporate and personal career levels

It’s an all-too-familiar situation unfortunately. The team achieves a notable success, delivering an important project on time, on budget, and on strategy. It’s a real collective effort.

What does the senior team leader do when the CEO notices the team’s achievement? He takes all the credit, and basks in the glory of his team’s efforts.

Word soon gets back to the team, and in no time at all, the leader’s reputation is in tatters, as is their ability to motivate others. What’s the point in working extra hours or going the extra mile, if you don’t get any credit for your efforts?

“Economic success strongly depends on team efforts today. Agility needs strong communication skills and motivation of everyone who participates in transformation processes“, explains Michael Proft, Partner at Odgers Berndtson Germany.

But consider another type of leader. They share the spotlight, they ensure that credit is given where it is due, they are quite happy for their team to be the ones associated with the success. Now which team is likely to want to tackle the next project with commitment and enthusiasm?

Benefits of engagement and elevation

Elevating colleagues’ achievements is a leadership behaviour that has been shown to have genuine impact.  In fact, research by Yuan Zou and Ethan Rouen shows how leaders—and their companies—directly benefit when they engage and elevate colleagues.

For one thing, managers who elevate others are more likely to hold on to valued employees, a critical factor in many sectors where skills are short, according to the study. The managers themselves also reap their own professional rewards. They are twice as likely as the average manager to be promoted to CEO. Furthermore, when they get the top job, they tend to boost returns for their firms.

Inclusive cultures drive motivation

Quoted by HBR, Zou expanded as follows. “Inclusive leaders are becoming really important as companies get bigger and more complex. Managers need to know how to create an inclusive culture for employees so that they have the psychological safety to be motivated to contribute to the company.”

Interestingly, another finding was that that female managers were 4.9% more likely and older managers were 0.6% more likely to call on colleagues than were male and younger managers. Not huge figures, but perhaps an indication that in the early days of a career, ambitious men are less lightly to share the credit in the view that this will be good for their progress. 

Credit benefits

Does taking credit for the work of others, as a strategy to get ahead, help or hinder the leader using that approach?  What is the impact of giving others all the credit?

Here, another piece of research zero’ed in on measuring a leader’s effectiveness considering those two contrasting approaches.

The results were pretty startling. Those leaders whose tendency was to take credit were rated as very ineffective leaders, while those who tried hard to give the credit to others were rated as some of the most effective leaders. 

They look good, you look good

The research conclusions made a simple, but powerful point.

“The reality is, when a leader makes another person look good, it makes them look good too. The analysis on this data strongly suggests that by giving others credit a leader will be perceived in the following ways: more effective in their overall leadership effectiveness, fairer, committed to help others succeed, does what is best for the company, walks their talk, accepts responsibility, is trusted, lives their principles and core values, and values diversity.”

How best can managers elevate others?

1  Make it a daily practice to ask for more feedback and be more interactive with your colleagues. When it comes to decision time, make sure you are open to the opinions of colleagues and lower-level employees.

2  Keep things informal because some of the best conversations, feed-back and ideas can happen in an impromptu meetup, not the scheduled meeting where sometimes participants don’t feel free to speak their minds. Unlike a lunch, for example.

The more times there are to share and exchange opinions, the more included employees are likely to feel.

3 Inclusive organisations hire inclusive-minded leadership.  If your CEO naturally shares their success with others, the researchers found, inclusiveness of the entire executive team increases the following year.

4 Share the words of praise in all directions. The more you praise your team, the more the word will get around the organisation. And soon enough it will get back to your team too.

5 Communicate the praise you get - so if the boss tells you you’ve done a good job, reply by mentioning your team’s key contributions, and make sure they are cc’ed on the email. And if you are sending an email of praise to your team, make sure your boss is cc’ed. 

6 What could be more motivating than a direct word of thanks and praise from your boss, so if you think the achievement merits it, why not ask you boss to directly communicate a message of a job well done to your team. 

Marco Henry Neumueller, Partner at Odgers Berndtson Germany adds: “Business is a collective process, and being recognized for your success is highly motivating, not matter what your level of seniority.  Good leaders recognize the connection between these two things, and are never shy of sharing the spotlight with their teams and colleagues.”

If you want to discuss these issues and how they affect your talent and leadership planning, or perhaps want advice on your own career trajectory, please get in touch.