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Change Work July 2011

Credit where it's due

One of the really hard things about moving up the management ladder in any organisation is to let go of what you love doing.  You have to allow your team to take over and do what you, to begin with, could probably do better - and then to see them improving and overtaking you in terms of skill, speed and quality.

As their leader, you play a key part in developing those people - developing them to take on more and more of your favourite work and leaving you with "management". You have to keep quiet when they start to do things differently from how you used to do them. "I've got scars on my tongue through biting it all the time!" was what my boss used to say.

And it's actually worse than that.  You put all of your energy into developing them, so that they can do great things, and then you have to stand back and allow them to take the credit!

This theme has come through time and again in coaching people in leadership; the need to let your team members put into practice what you've taught them and for no-one else to be aware of your contribution.

And it's very important to be recognised for what you've done.  Most of us have this basic need for praise and reputation, often felt more strongly than the desire for monetary reward.

As a leader, you rely on your own boss, or "the system", to recognise your contribution in developing others.  Sadly, this doesn't always happen.

If you work to improve your management and leadership skills, it's quite likely that you'll sometime find yourself in the position of being a much more accomplished manager and leader than your own manager.  You may already be there. You may not (yet) have all of the knowledge and experience that they have, but you could be more skilled in dealing with people and empathising with them.

As an aside, this raises the possibility of "coaching upwards".  If your own manager doesn't do "people" very well, then you can help them by demonstrating, whenever you get the chance, how you make an effort to see other people's point of view and talking through some of the questions that you ask yourself ("If I were doing that job ...", "If I heard this for the first time ...").  Eventually your thick-skinned boss might see how this can lead to better decisions and, particularly, more effective communication.

As your leadership role develops you'll find that you're increasingly working behind the scenes. Your individual contribution is less and less obvious but, hopefully, more and more important.  This paradox is only a problem if it clashes with your personal needs.

And that brings us back to the familiar territory of values: what's important to you is what drives your behaviour, even if you're not conscious of its importance.  If you reflect on how it feels when your efforts go unnoticed, or when someone else proposes your idea and gets more attention than you did, you'll get an immediate gauge of how important recognition is to you.  You'll also be able to see to what extent your typical responses are driven by this need rather than by a desire to solve the problem or complete the task. 

Sadly, you can't make others appreciate you or recognise your efforts.  No matter how hard you work or how successful you are, in the end there may be no positive response from anyone.  And whether anyone notices what you've done, or cares enough to acknowledge it, is always going to be up to them - their choice.

It takes some determination to carry on doing your best when there's no recognition. The temptation is to stop doing the things you know are important but aren't visible (like team development) and to focus on highly visible, short-term tasks.

But helping people grow actually grows you as well.  I think that if you gain satisfaction from your proteges' success, rather than feeling jealous, then you'll want to support and encourage them more - making you a more effective leader.

It also makes you a grown-up!