You brought up a great idea in a meeting, and the team ran with it. They ran so far, in fact, the idea is no longer yours. It's now a 'team effort.' Or maybe you offered your boss a keen insight, one they took right to the executive team, proudly presenting it as their own. Perhaps you stayed late, expertly perfecting a client pitch, only to have your colleagues to take all the credit the following morning.
As the creator of 'Noble Purpose,' I'm well familiar with the power of sticky language. Every time I get a google alert about someone using the language I created (and trademarked) I click, hoping that they will be referencing my work. Usually they don't.
One of my friends said something to me early in my career that (most of the time) keeps me grounded -- "Good ideas don't remember their parents." Case in point, people talk about Find Your Why without realizing Simon Sinek popularized it, and Good to Great was trademarked by Jim Collins decades before it became a common catch phrase.
When you have good ideas or produce good work, it often takes a life of its own. But that doesn't make it any less frustrating, particularly in the world of work, where promotions, raises and opportunities are doled out based on who produces what.
Here are three tips for navigating the tricky situation when someone else takes credit for your work:
Respond with kindness -- the first time
In many cases, the person taking credit for your work doesn't even realize they're doing it. That doesn't mean you should let it slide, but it's best for your professional reputation to reserve calling out an "idea thief" for later down the road.
Initially, responding with kindness typically acknowledges the enthusiasm of the other person while also owning your own contributions. You can say something like: "I'm so glad my initial idea resonated with you! When I first thought of it, what was most exciting to me was..." Or "I'm thrilled with how well the client received our presentation, when I was working on it last night, my main goal was to..."
The vast majority of the time, this language technique will alert the other person to what's happening, while allowing them to maintain their professional dignity.
Treat other's ideas how you want yours to be treated
Making a proactive effort to lift up the work of other people, will, over time, start to create a culture of recognition (of which you, too, will benefit). Some of former President Obama's female staff made a regular practice of this. According to The Washington Post, "Female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called "amplification": When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author."
Your personal politics aside, this strategy works. Saying something like, "I love Jane's idea, let's continue to build on it," keeps the energy moving forward and firmly established who originated it.
Take credit early
"I don't want to brag." It's a common lament. We all want to be appreciated for our hard work, yet many of us are reluctant to tout our accomplishments. The braggarts who annoy you are likely those who talk endlessly about themselves. Don't let their obnoxious self-promotion make you think that's the only way to get recognition.
Instead, highlight your accomplishments in the context of the difference they make to someone else or the organization. It's more comfortable to say, "Here's the result" vs. "Look at me, look at me." This framing amplifies your impact without making it all about you. It enables you to get the credit you deserve while also emphasizing the value you bring to your team or organization.
Want more tips on how to gracefully take credit? Check out my LinkedIn post -- How to Highlight Your Accomplishments without Bragging.
It can be a discouraging experience to bring your best work forth and not get any recognition. But often, this moment isn't intended as the personal affront we interpret it to be.
Handling these moments with kindness and a steadfast resolve to own your contributions is of service to your entire organization.
Lisa Earle McLeod is an advisor, consultant and speaker, who works with senior executives and sales teams around the world. She is the global expert in purpose-driven selling. Her clients include Salesforce, LinkedIn, Roche, Dave & Busters and Peterbilt Trucking. Her bestselling books include Selling with Noble Purpose and Leading with Noble Purpose