What if Your Boss Takes Credit for Your Ideas?

If you discover that your direct manager is taking full credit for the ideas that you’re generating or the results you’re producing, what should you do? There is no simple fix when this happens, but there are things you can do to make sure your ideas and your value are known.

When Your Boss Steals Your Ideas

Which Scenario Do You Recognize?

There are several reasons managers don’t pass along credit for your work or ideas. Here are 6 types of situations and what you might do in each. There is no one solution — you may need to try more than one approach.

  • Manager is New. Your manager is new to the role or to the organization and wants to make an immediate and positive impact on senior leadership. He may initially be hesitant to give credit to others – in this case, you – because it could give the impression that he may not have been the right guy for the job.
  • Manager is on the Fast Track. Your manager is taking every opportunity to demo her high value in leadership’s eyes. Giving you credit now may take away from her genius. Because of that, she may be slow to promote your contributions.
  • Manager’s Belief System is in Play. Your manager believes that all work and all ideas generated in his department should be credited to him since he’s the acknowledged leader.
  • Manager Feels Threatened by You. Your manager has recognized how brilliant you are and feels threatened by the possibility that you can outshine her.
  • Manager is Not Conscious of the Behavior. This is a common occurrence. Your manager’s focus may be everywhere else and not on giving you credit for the ideas and work that you produce.
  • Manager Sees Self as the Source. You may be talking your ideas through with your manager before taking action. As a result of these interactive discussions your manager believes she is helping you refine your thinking. Seeing herself as a major contributor to putting your ideas into practice, she therefore assumes credit for the outcomes.

What to Do

  • Keep making your manager look good. If your manager is new, it is wise to help him make a few home runs right away with leadership. After he gets those first big hits, you may see that he’s giving you the credit you deserve. And with the fast-track manager, taking opportunities to make her look good may pay off for you in the long run as she may see you as a high-value asset and ally and give you the credit you deserve. If too much time passes and your manager is still not mentioning your valued contributions, consider the methods below.
  • Seed your ideas with others — and let your boss know you’ve done so. When you have a new idea, seed it with several others so that a broader group of people are aware that you are the source. Make sure your boss knows who you’ve told your idea to. Optionally, you can also ask for feedback from others, and then bring it to your manager with your implementation plan worked out. In the case of the boss who sees herself as the source of your ideas, it’s a good idea to bring a fully-developed idea to her and then let her know you’ll keep her and others in the loop as the idea is put into play. This makes it hard for her to claim full responsibility.
  • Report your ideas and contributions to your manager in a weekly update email. This tactic can be particularly useful with the manager who is not aware that he’s not giving you credit. If it’s appropriate to cc others on your team, include them. Having regular conversations with your manager in which you report on your ideas and results can also be effective, but in addition to email, not instead of it.
  • Share updates and accomplishments more widely. The idea again is to make sure more people are aware of your contributions. You can do this in several ways. One option is to post a photo or note in your company’s internal social media celebrating an individual or team milestone or the end of a project. Make it matter-of-fact, not boastful. For example, “We’ve just made a major milestone on the X project.”  “I’ve cooked up a plan for taking my new idea into action.” You can also use the sound-bite strategy for increasing your visibility at work when you have informal encounters with other leaders who are not your boss. These can be useful options to incorporate in an overall strategy particularly in the case of the manager who is threatened by you and the case of the manager whose belief system is unshakable.

What Not to Do

  • Do not disparage your manager to others. Word nearly always gets back, and by the time the gossip passes through a few people, it could be far worse when it reaches your manager. This could also end up earning you a reputation for being untrustworthy.
  • Do not “out” your manager. Do not make statements in front of your boss or in meetings with others that an idea your boss is claiming as her own is yours.

Earlier this week I posted about what to do when a peer takes credit for your ideas, specifically during meetings. But when your boss is the one taking the credit, the situation is automatically more complex and requires a strategic plan.

Implementing one or several of the tactics above can get things moving in the right direction and start to bring you the recognition you deserve. But if you’re working under a manager long-term who continues to eclipse you, it may be time to start thinking of how to get yourself reporting to someone who promotes your efforts.

Question: What do you recommend if someone’s boss is taking credit for their ideas? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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