I singled out a team member from another leader’s organization during an organizational leadership meeting the other day to make sure that he was recognized for the great work he had done in supporting me and my team on a very difficult assignment. Even though I got to report the progress, I thought it was important that the person most responsible for the work received the recognition for the job well done. His senior leadership thanked me for the acknowledgement. I didn’t remember getting thanked very often for acknowledging another team’s individual member in the past. I got the subtle feeling that this sort of acknowledgement behavior may not have been the norm.
This small interchange got me to thinking again. This is always a dangerous process as I am never sure where it is going to lead me, but I thought anyway. I started remembering back in my career to try and pinpoint when and where I adopted and implemented the position that a leader should not take the credit for the successes and good performance of the team.
I can remember working for managers that did not seem to ascribe to this approach to team acknowledgement. We probably all have. It has been a while and I find myself searching my memories for how I felt about it. I would have to say my memories and feeling about it were mixed. I remember feeling proud that the work I had done was being recognized as noteworthy, but I also remember feeling at least a little bit slighted that the manager was individually receiving the accolades.
I can also remember the first time I was singled out and recognized by a leader for delivering an important work product for the organization. There was the same pride in the work, but also a little more pride associated with the specific acknowledgement.
Business is about competition. On the higher levels one business competes with another for available customers and revenue. Organizations within the business compete (and work in concert) with each of the other organizations within the business for funding and growth opportunities. To illustrate this organizational competition just take a look at the budgeting process and how the available funding and growth are allocated in the next year’s plan.
There is also competition within and amongst the various organizations on an individual level as well. There is usually a general desire by individuals within an organization to matriculate upwards in the organization to positions of greater responsibility, and compensation. This is not always the case as there are those that find a role and level that they are happy with and do not try to go farther, but in general this desire for upward progress in the organization is a given.
The competitive issue arises in that as you progress further and further up the organizational charts, the number of positions available to advance to becomes smaller and smaller. Individual contributors usually wish to become managers, who in turn want to be one of a fewer number of senior managers, who in turn want to be one of still fewer directors who in turn want to be one of even fewer vice presidents, and so on.
As an individual contributor we get the opportunity to be specifically acknowledged for the work we do. There probably isn’t anyone else doing the specific work the individual is doing so this is okay. Individuals who do good work seem to be the first ones to be recognized and promoted to the management levels. This begins and reinforces a process where the desire for individual recognition is seen as a key requirement for promotion and advancement.
The issue here is that as you are promoted and rise in the organization the amount of solution content that each individual manager adds to the delivered work product begins to change and decrease. The individual delivering a project has a great deal of input and relationship to the final work product. The director (two to three levels higher in the organization) of the individual delivering the project may be able to provide guidance and directional input on the project but probably limited to little specific content. It is still the individual that is delivering it.
I know I have, and I suspect that many others have worked for managers (a generic term to be applied to people at all relative levels of an organizational hierarchy) who never seemed to advance beyond the need for receiving that individual recognition. These are the type of individuals that seem to gladly accept the full recognition for the work delivered by the entire team. They are a team manager but they are still thinking and acting like an individual contributor.
There are and will always be instances of the type of management behavior being rewarded. It is not however a sign of leadership and at least in my experience seems to be a behavior which eventually catches up with the individual. Leaders eventually identify this type of behavior and react negatively to it.
Leaders understand that their role becomes more strategic and directional, the higher up in the organization they go. They may identify the issue, prioritize the project, and provide the funding and staf
fing to see to it that it can be completed, but they do not perform the work product themselves. They know others must do this, as they have other issues to identify, prioritize and act on. They also know that those who actually do perform the work product should be recognized when they succeed.
These are the types of leaders that are recognized by their teams as a leader to be valued because they know that they will be recognized and rewarded for their efforts. What may not be so widely known is that these are leaders are also valued by other leaders as being able to successfully assemble quality teams that identify and resolve the issues they are faced with. When a leader publicly recognizes the efforts and abilities of the individuals on the team who successfully delivered on their objectives, they are also tacitly pointing out that they as leaders put together that team and put them in the position to be successful.
Giving credit where credit is due is the sure sign of a leader. A leader knows they are in charge and ultimately responsible for the delivery and success of any project. That does not mean that they have the right to, or should assume all the credit for the delivery and success of the project. On the contrary. The leader that understands their role in the project, who focuses on and enables the success of the others on the team, and then makes sure that they are recognized and acknowledged for their success, is also usually the one that gets the most credit without ever having to ask for it.