Take my credit, but you can't break me

During the standup, my boss spoke up. He told everyone about the Great Initiative we were starting, as was proper. It was great and it was important. What wasn’t great and what wasn’t proper (but it turned to be very important) was that he presented it as his initiative and his alone, which, as far as telling the truth goes, was very much not it.

He had screamed and kicked for weeks on end, resisting any argumentation and reasonings I provided. He didn’t care about my previous expertise. He didn’t care about all the additional information that I searched for to support my claim (since he obviously didn’t want to listen to the plain ol’ me). He didn’t care about the potential negative implications of not doing it that would, in my opinion, warrant at least some interest. Instead, he just rebuffed everything with, ‘I don’t think we need to worry about this’ and things like that.

It was basically saying, ‘I don’t want to do it, so we won’t.’

when someone takes your credit

It wasn’t uncharacteristic of him at all. He obviously pretty much tried to avoid doing work as much as possible. (And no, I am not just saying that. He only put the effort in stuff if it was mandated to him from above or if he recognized it as a status-building activity.)

the winds of change

What changed, then, for him to change his mind in the end?

It wasn’t my persistent persuasion, per se. But I understood well enough that he considered my opinion just about worthless. So, one day, I decided to write to the authority on this subject in the organization, and lo’ and behold, of course, they said that indeed we should take care of that.

Now, of course, my boss had to listen. Organizationally speaking, they had some obvious, prominent role and authority.

when the right person says it

(As a side note, his change in opinion was quite comical. It had literally changed immediately. In the first sentence, he was miles on the one side. Then I shared the news from the authority. And then, he was miles on the opposite side. It was like he had come crawling out of the womb carrying this opinion and nobody would ever believe he had ever thought differently.)

Alas, my boss was also smart enough that he deciphered something else: that this initiative, however small in practice (OK, that was actually even better, less actual work for him to do) could be spun into a BIG story. And if that story could be firmly attached to his name, oh, what status-building could come with it! (And he was right. It became a very important narrative for us, of how we were trend-setters and whatnot, and he became a relevant player and spokesperson about it around the organization and outside it. He was suddenly considered some sort of expert.)

when you try to see the funny side

the impossibility of reclaiming the credit

When this happened, I froze. I had no idea how to react. Was there even something I could do at the moment?

Later on, I got some advice from many internet articles on how to handle someone stealing your credit. You know, when someone shares an idea without giving credit, they imply it was theirs. And then you could jump in and say something like, ‘I’m glad you brought this up. I shared this idea with you because …’ And thus give yourself credit.

Of course, obviously, this wouldn’t work here, even if I’d read it before.

He was smart. He protected his bases. Instead of just talking about this initiative removed from any actors, or (heaven forbid!) even talk about this as some departmental thingy with a shared credit, he very directly attached his name to it. He was the one taking on this initiative. It was all his idea.

There was no gray area there whatsoever, he plainly and simply … lied. He fabricated a believable story about how he came to the conclusion that this is needed. Yes, he was a master manipulator, er, storyteller.

So, I couldn’t do much (or anything) during the standup. But could I have done something after that?

No matter how I turn it around in my mind, I still don’t see a proper way for me to reclaim this credit. Because as far as the professional world is concerned, it would be considered unprofessional of me to imply he was lying. Even though he was. In the end, it would be just my word against him anyway, and I doubt I would ‘win’ because he was a master manipulator, er, storyteller. (And even though much later, during a time of frustration with things related to this, I sort of told my other boss that. And he didn’t seem to not believe me. But he was completely unfazed by this reality. Which was even worse.)

when its just on you to be professional

I also didn’t see the point of talking it out with him. There was no doubt that this was a conscious, intentional action. And while I don’t think it was malicious towards me, per se, it was just about him willing to play dirty for his selfish wants, this didn’t matter. He had put the story out there already. There was no chance in the world he’d ever humbly admit he lied.

I did talk to him once, much later, though.

Naturally, he first tried to convince me I was in the wrong and he never opposed the idea in the first place. Then he tried to convince me that it’s normal for higher-ups to receive credit for the work of the people below them. (As if, you know, this means that it’s then OK for them to also grab credit for themselves whenever they want, even when they had nothing to do with it. Plus, isn’t it a known thing that leaders actually redirect the spotlight away from themselves? Good ones, at least.) And then, he finished it all with how it’s all about the implementation, not the idea.

(Why then, I wish I’d asked, was it that you felt the need to grab the credit for the idea, too? But I doubt the answer would matter. I doubt he would stumble and felt found out.)

when someone has an answer for everything

So yes, I was on a road with no exits. (The only place where I could reclaim the credit was in my CV.)

Still, I do wish I talked to him right afterward. Not because I believe it would change anything or that I would reclaim any credit or be any more likely involved in the implementation. It would just show him that I would not be silent and taken advantage of. That if he wants to keep up such antics, he’d have to be smarter. That I was on to him.

I should do it just for the sake of standing up for myself.

Or … Maybe it would backfire completely. Maybe he would start becoming more careful, maybe he would actively start working on protecting his bases, instead of feeling like I wasn’t going to say anything at all and he can do whatever. Who even knows.

the fallout

I didn’t just pretend like everything was OK, though.

I started working on ways to protect myself and my credit from then on, little by little, without raising suspicion. Gone were the days where I felt content with the idea of doing what was right, even if more in the background. I realized now, there had likely been many a story spun about the initiatives that I took and completed on my own. I didn’t have the audience with my other boss often enough. And he had it. Much much more often. Plus he had the benefit of being sort of friends with him anyway, the bias that was visible from miles away.

So while I did start connecting more directly with my other boss at that time, too, this wasn’t that effective. He didn’t show much interest in me, often skipping our meetings without rescheduling them and, basically, our meetings always ran short, even when they did happen, even after two or more months. (Of course, once, when I brought this up, he blamed it on me and my quietness. But he barely ever asked any questions or showed interest in what I was saying.) I guess it was enough for him to hear things about my work through my first boss, who he met with every week. Which made it a perfect set-up for my first boss to twist the truth however he wanted.

But I also started to spend more and more time and effort on ensuring that whatever even semi-important thing I did (particularly if it was out of the ordinary), I not only talked about it more, but I made sure to talk about it in a way that made it clear it was mine. No room left for second-guessing.

I started to devise strategies on how to do certain tasks without having to involve him in them. Focus more on the things that I could do that didn’t need his approval, even if they were a bit smaller and less important. But they would, at least, be mine.

when you have to protect your work at work

Was I successful? Sort of.

But it left me super empty and stressed.

Was this really all I could expect my future to be? Strategizing and politicking and being careful of how things appear most of all? Being careful of what I do and how I do it, what I say and how I say it? Being so obsessed with self-promotion of even the tiniest things and about credit in general? Constantly looking over my shoulder to ensure he isn’t there to overhear something he could claim for himself?

Or, alternatively, reverting to the role I was supposed to fill, with automatic credit that goes with it, and not worrying about anything else? Doing just what I’m told to do? (OK, I don’t think that would even be possible, honestly. Everyone is happy when you take on more and just do what needs to be done, but nobody reacts well when you have to roll it back and start doing just what you’re supposed to do and are paid for.)

Doing these things rather than, you know, doing work and focusing on doing the best work I could for the sake of the organization?

Thanks, but no thanks.

The project I thought of was new
He liked what he heard–but not ‘who’
So he spread the word
That it was his work
All credit where credit is due


April 2, 2021

Tags: Leadership, Credit, Toxic, Standing up, Management