#157: The Give and Take of Extraordinary Leaders

It’s not what you think

Extraordinary leaders come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common; they all understand the importance of give and take.

Give and Take Leaders

And by give and take, I am not talking about their ability to negotiate, or their ability to compromise!

No! I am talking about the ability to give credit and take responsibility!

Sadly, when I was a young leader in my early twenties, I was not very good at giving credit or taking responsibility.

If my team of salespeople did especially well in making a breakthrough sale, I made sure the boss knew their accomplishment was because of the superior training and leadership I had provided.

My team had an exceptional year and led the division in our most important sales metrics. When my boss and his boss asked what contributed to the success I talked at length about the training I had provided the team throughout the course of the year. Honestly, it never occurred to me to highlight the individual successes of my salespeople that contributed to our outstanding results.

If, on the other hand, one of my salespeople made a mistake that cost the company money I did my best to make sure the light of incompetency shined only on my employee.

We once had a particularly complicated promotion allowance. After carefully explaining how it worked, one of my sales representatives proceeded to misrepresent the offer to a number of customers. It cost the company several hundred dollars to make good on the sales rep’s mistake. I threw my sales rep squarely under the bus as I explained to my boss how the mistake was the sales rep’s alone. After all, the rest of the team got it right.

I am not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point after becoming a Christian, I recognized this propensity to take credit for other people’s work and avoid responsibility for failures wasn’t right. In fact, as a young Christian, I decided I would give other people credit whenever possible, and always take responsibility for issues within my team.

I started out small by encouraging my team members individually and privately. Then, as I saw how this built them up, I started publicizing their successes publically to other members of the team.  We were suddenly gaining significant traction as a group.

Next, I started telling my bosses how great my sales people were; how they had made great sales against all odds. And I left myself out of the story.

The first time something did go wrong, I stood quaking in front of my boss, and simply said, “I messed up, I’ll fix it.” I refused to throw anyone under the bus. To my great surprise (and relief) the boss just said, “Good. Take care of it.” I found taking responsibility was actually easier than trying to make up excuses to cover myself.

That year was a transformative year for me as a leader. I went from taking credit and avoiding responsibility, to giving credit and taking responsibility.

Giving credit became a bit of a game to me. I would spot someone doing something extraordinary and brag about them. Then I started sending emails to my bosses, as high up as I could reach in the corporate hierarchy, letting them know what great results someone had achieved.

I stepped up my game a little further by starting to brag about the results of people who didn’t even work for me. Anyone who I heard about doing something of note was fair game. I would fire off a memo to their bosses and bosses’ boss to let them know how much they contributed to the organization.

Now here’s the funny thing. I found two very important outcomes that derived from my new “giving credit” leadership philosophy:

  • The more bragging I did about others, the fewer things ever went wrong. I rarely had to stand in front of the boss and take responsibility for a project that went sideways because it almost never happened.
  • The more I gave credit to others, the more recognition I received from my bosses for being a good leader.

So in the end, the very thing I sought as a young leader; recognition and respect for my skills, was achieved not when I focused on myself, but when I focused on everyone else.

Paul had it right when he wrote to the Ephesians in 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. Have you worked for leaders who gave credit and took responsibility? What was that like compared to those who took credit and avoided taking responsibility?

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Category: Relationships | Encouragement



Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Allie Pape says:

    Looking back, I can think of one leader specifically that was exceptionally good at giving credit and taking responsibility. One multiple events I would have our store manager come up to me and tell me that Elizabeth (my manager) had told him of my excellent performance the past week. And on another occasion when I was in a little bit of hot water with the HR department, my manager stepped in on my behalf and claimed responsibility for the misunderstanding on my part. Having a manager willing to give up the praise or take the wrath of a mistake made not only my job easier and less stressful, but it also made her employees more willing to put 100% effort forward.

    • Ron says:

      I’m glad you had this great example from a leader who took responsibility and gave credit early in your career. Now you know from first-hand experience how powerful this kind of leadership can be!

  • Matt Zoeter says:

    I think its important to realize the importance of teamwork and where we should shift our remarks about others. I know personally that it is much easier to not want the blame to be given to ourselves but rather a scapegoat. It is as natural instinct to be defensive however I found from personal experience that being honest with myself create a much better working environment and shows others that you are able to own up to your own failures. Also I think that when positive recognition is given to other it allows us to show that we can’t just solely do it on our own rather we rely on the collaboration of a team lead by an effective leader something I always try to practice in the music world.

  • Kiley Brinson says:

    Its easy to get sidetracked by your own personal accomplishments, especially when there is competition. I think it is a natural instinct, but that is why we need to be aware of our intentions. As you mentioned though holding back does not mean its a bad thing, it actually could end up as a win- win! Also, when you show true integrity and credit others for their work they are able to feel confident in what they do. By empowering individuals it is most likely that the entire unit will be successful. I am glad you eventually learned how to address this issue in the workplace and I will do the best to my ability to do the same!

    • Ron says:

      Great insight about empowerment. The whole point of give credit and take responsibility leadership is to empower individuals to be and do their best!

  • Kassey Peck says:

    I think it is a challenge to go from taking credit and avoiding responsibility to giving credit and taking responsibility. Most people focus on what will boost their image, instead of taking responsibility. I think it is a learning process and takes time/practice for people to transition into giving credit and taking responsibility. I believe that if all leaders gave credit and took responsibility, then the employees will also learn to have that same mentality. From my personal experience, when leaders give credit and take responsibility there is a better work environment. The leader and his/her employees work as team, instead of against each other.

    • Ron says:

      I agree it can be a challenge to shift from promoting self-interest to promoting the interests of others. But as you aptly pointed out, the example of the leader has a tremendous impact on the rest of the organization.

  • John says:

    Ron- Very astute post and advice. I think we are all ambitious and it’s easy to become immersed in our own path. But focusing on others and taking responsibility, even when you may not have directly caused the problem…well, that’s what the best leaders do. It’s so important for leaders to truly acknowledge the successes and efforts of their coworkers. But it has to be authentic. Employees see through false praise a mile away! Thanks!

    • Ron says:

      So true – authenticity is everything. What I found, and this was just my experience, was people were drawn to the positive environment of a giving credit/take responsibility leader, and quickly tried to avoid the other.