In healthy collaborative environments, ideas are flowing back and forth between team members, colleagues, and leadership. However, many times leaders will take the credit for these ideas and insights, which can seriously affect the atmosphere of an office. When leaders are greedy and quick to take credit for the work of others, talented workers may find themselves looking for another job.
Have you ever heard of the expression, ‘fishing for compliments’? It essentially means that people may say things so others will respond with something positive--a compliment. As kids, we all looked for validation from the adults around us, including our parents, other family members, teachers and our friends. Adults don’t stop seeking validation just because they grow up. On the contrary, many may find themselves in unhealthy situations or relationships because they are still looking for someone to approve of them.
Why Do Leaders Withhold Compliments Or Recognition?
There are many reasons why a leader might not acknowledge their team’s efforts. Some people tend to be more generous, perhaps because of how they were raised. Others tend to hoard resources, compliments and wealth. To be fair, many work situations are collaborations, and the lines between the work of one person and another can easily become blurred. What stops leaders from giving credit to others, though?1
- Attention. Some people must be in the spotlight at all times. By taking credit for the work of others, they try to stand out and keep all eyes on themselves. Sharing credit would mean sharing the attention, which for some, is unacceptable.
- Competitiveness. When people cannot stand to fail, they may jump forward and claim the efforts of their colleagues. However, in times of stress or difficulty, they may be quick to blame others for failure, rather than taking the blame personally.
- Entitlement. Entitled leaders may expect others to accomplish certain things without the need for compliments, acknowledgement or generosity. They may not realise that their workers are going above and beyond the norm, and instead, regard their efforts as typically and required.
Everyone has worked with people who act like this, but when this behaviour is pervasive in an office space, the environment will inevitably become tainted with resentment, disappointment and even anger. A leader who is in tune with the people they work around is quick to show praise and generosity, but a leader who is focused only on themselves will eventually lose the support of their staff.
Data taken from thousands of 360 assessments have shown that leaders who take credit for the work of others are rated poorly on overall leadership effectiveness, while leaders who give others credit are rated much higher (13% compared to 85%). Leaders who treat people fairly and are committed to helping others do well were rated more effective by their peers, colleagues and managers.2
The more credit you give away, the more will come back to you. The more you help others, the more they will want to help you.
Better To Give Than Receive?
Neuroscience has started to unravel how social support can positively impact brain health. One study asked participants if they gave or received support, and researchers found both giving and receiving were related to fewer negative psychological symptoms.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), giving support to others was linked to decreased activity in stress-centres of the brain, and increased activity in areas that function in the brain’s reward system. Receiving support did not affect activation levels in these same areas compared to giving support.3
The benefits of giving support may actually outweigh the benefits of getting that support. In a leadership setting, the act of sharing credit generously and freely with others may actually support the leader’s brain health. Perhaps there is a grain of truth to the expression, ‘It is better to give than to receive’.
How Generosity Can Help You Become A Neuroleader
The i4 Neuroleader is a neurobiology-based personal leadership and wellbeing program which can help you see the value of generosity. Generous leaders are kind, compassionate and they genuinely care what happens to others. Just as there is no ‘I’ in team, there is no ‘I’ in leadership.
Generous leaders help to create brain-friendly workplaces where the work of individuals is acknowledged to support the goals of the team.
1. Seltzer LF. Why People Don’t Acknowledge You. Psychology Today, 2013, (2013, accessed 25 November 2019).
2. Folkman J. It’s All About Me! What Happens When A Leader Takes All The Credit? Forbes Magazine, 2017, (2017, accessed 25 November 2019).
3. Inagaki TK, Bryne Haltom KE, Suzuki S, et al. The Neurobiology of Giving Versus Receiving Support: The Role of Stress-Related and Social Reward-Related Neural Activity. Psychosom Med 2016; 78: 443–453.