“On great teams—the kind where people trust each other, engage in open conflict, and then commit to decisions—team members have the courage and confidence to confront one another when they see something that isn’t serving the team.”
Sofia was floored when during a team meeting, her coworker stood up to present a project they’d been working on together. They hadn’t planned to share their results until next week. Using materials she’d helped to create, he described it as his project and announced his results. What should I do? Sofia thought frantically.
If one of your coworkers keeps reframing your ideas as his own at meetings, or if your colleague went so far as to present your strategy to your boss, you need to take action. Avoiding conflict in such scenarios would harm the whole team. Tread carefully, though, or you could end up accused of stealing credit from others.
If someone rephrases your ideas as his own…
If a coworker is continually restating points you have made at a meeting and framing them as his own, he might be doing it unconsciously. That doesn’t mean it’s okay, but it helps inform how you should respond.
- Before saying anything, calm down. Losing your temper could make you look irrational—fair or not. Plus, you won’t get your thoughts across clearly if you’re angry.
- Address the transgression tactfully but directly in the moment, if possible. For example, if a coworker restates your idea, say, “Yes, that’s exactly the point I was making. I’m glad you agree with the idea.”
- If it keeps happening, approach the person one-on-one and ask if you can talk with him. Remember, if someone is repeatedly claiming your ideas as their own, it’s probably a sign of insecurity—so be gentle, or you’ll put him on the defensive. Affirm that you fully believe it wasn’t intentional, and validate the person’s contributions so acknowledging his mistake won’t feel as hard. For instance, you might say: “I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but a couple of times during the meeting, I felt you were framing X idea as your own when I introduced it earlier on. I’m happy that this idea resonated with you, because I appreciate the expertise you bring and would love to get your insight on similar ideas in the future.”
- If the issue keeps occurring, mention it during a one-on-one meeting with your boss. Focus on your desire to strengthen working relationships, stick to the facts, and maintain a positive tone. “I think Coworker Y has many strengths, and I hope he’ll become secure enough in his own ideas that he doesn’t unconsciously lay claim to those of others,” you might say.
If someone presents your idea or success as her own…
Say you believe a coworker has stolen your idea outright, and presented it to your boss or team as her own. Or say your coworker took credit for your work on a big project. You don’t want to look like a pushover by letting it go, but you don’t want to obsess so much about the transgression that you look irrational or insecure.
- Again, calm yourself down before taking any action so you’re fully in control of your words.
- Try to find out if there’s any way it could have been unintentional. Maybe you were brainstorming together, and she inaccurately remembered the idea as being her own. Or maybe you worked on the project together, and she accidentally left out your contribution during a meeting out of nervousness. Talk with her one-on-one, and phrase your question in a non-accusatory way so you won’t be sabotaging a working relationship. Give her a chance to apologize, but if she doesn’t, push back, says Karen Dillon in HR Guide to Office Politics. Making it uncomfortable for her to continue the behavior will deter it from happening again.
- Get support from other team members, if others know for certain that the idea was yours. Ask them to acknowledge your contribution in the next meeting, or in a team email. If the coworker at fault sees you have support, she may back down.
- If the offense was truly egregious—for example, if a coworker took your name off a presentation you created and presented it as her own—meet with your boss to explain what happened, sharing evidence to support your case.
If someone repeatedly takes credit for your work…
- Keep a log showing details about what happened and when.
- Find out if colleagues have experienced the same behavior from this coworker. Gather your evidence of the transgressions.
- Talk to your boss about the situation, along with any other coworkers who have been affected. Stay collected and share evidence, if you have it. Rather than badmouthing the coworker at fault, focus on your desire to feel heard and to create a harmonious office dynamic.
- Help create a culture of sharing credit by always highlighting the contributions of others.
Preventing idea theft
Work to prevent theft of your ideas by documenting them well. If you share them, share them with more than one person so you don’t end up in a “he said/she said” scenario. Better yet, share them electronically, so there’s a record.
Remember, too, that one idea isn’t everything. You’ll have other great ideas, and you can be more conscientious about how to share them in the future. Don’t fixate so much on remedying this issue that it keeps you from shining in other ways, or makes you look petty. If you focus on the future, others will notice your stellar performance and give you plenty of credit for it!
Contact leadership coach Joel for more advice on promoting your work and building a strong reputation.
“Trust is a core currency of any relationship. Sometimes our need to control and micromanage everything erodes our confidence in ourselves and others. The truth: People are much more capable than we think. A hearty dose of trust is often what’s needed to unlock the magic. Go ahead, have faith.”
Client Gerald asks: Some of the employees I supervise really seem to self-sabotage at work a lot. It’s clearly coming from a lack of belief in themselves. How can I instill confidence in my employees to get the best results from my team?
Coach Joel answers: Glad you reached out for support, Gerald. Employees who feel confident about their abilities will drive an organization’s success. Meanwhile, those who don’t believe in themselves will settle for the safety of mediocrity. By instilling confidence, you’ll prime your employees to take worthwhile risks, thereby growing into even better performers.
- Focus on strengths
Focusing on strengths doesn’t just make employees feel good—it’s far more effective than targeting weaknesses, according to Gallup’s research. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give feedback about areas for improvement, but don’t fixate on them too much. When employees use their areas of strength, they’re six times more likely to be engaged at work as those who don’t, Gallup emphasizes.
- Be specific with your praise
When you give praise, make it abundantly clear what behavior you’re praising. Highlight key strengths that led to a project’s success, or observations about things that employees consistently do well. Better yet, give this praise in front of others so employees feel their visibility growing.
- Reduce stress in the workplace
As Chris Adalikwu says in How to Build Self Confidence, Happiness, and Health, stress can make people feel less capable, even if they’re fully equipped to handle the situation at hand. Lowering workplace stress will thus bolster employees’ confidence. Being more flexible about deadlines if need be, encouraging employees to leave work at work, and ensuring they have all the tools they need to get the job done are just a few ways to reduce workplace stress.
- Have a plan for building skills
Develop a plan for how to help employees reach the goals you’ve set together during your performance reviews. Otherwise, they may feel daunted about how to get there. Focus on incremental growth, helping them build skills gradually over a series of projects rather than all at once. Small successes will give them the courage to persevere.
- Coach them from the sidelines
If an employee feels daunted about taking on a challenging project, don’t just throw her into it and hope for the best. Instead, coach her from the sidelines. Check in often (but without micromanaging how she does things). Ask if she has questions or needs advice, so she knows it’s okay to feel confused or want feedback.
- Ask them for help
The four most powerful words you can use as a leader are “I need your help.” Say them often, whether you need help with a task, developing a new strategy, or helping the company through a transition.
- Model confident behavior
Some leaders strive to appear invulnerable, but that sets a poor example for everyone. Show your people that strong leaders have questions, need support from others, and solicit others’ advice. Ask for their opinions, and for their feedback on how you can be a better boss. In doing so, you’ll instill self-confidence in your employees and improve communication in the workplace.
As you implement these tips for building people’s confidence, you’ll see your team blossom. To further enhance their growth, consider hiring a motivational trainer who will work to thoroughly understand and address the challenges your people face.
Contact executive coach Joel for more support in growing as a leader so you’ll get the most from your people.
“The speed of the boss is the speed of the team.”
Tom had been working as a manager for almost a year. He was good at evaluating people’s performance, pointing out areas for improvement, and saying “thank you” often. To him, those were the things that a good boss did.
However, when Tom sat down with his mentor to talk about his progress, his mentor told him that those things are just the tip of the iceberg. “One of the hallmark qualities of a great boss is that he’s always striving to improve,” said his mentor. “Here are 5 tips on how to become a better boss. You’ll be the kind of boss who inspires tremendous loyalty, innovation, and respect from his people.”
- Inspires a Shared Vision
Hone your understanding of your organization’s vision. Talking in-depth about vision with company leaders will give you a better grasp of it. Even if you’re not a high-level leader, understanding how your department fits into the big picture will help you and your people excel. Then instill the vision in your people. At the beginning of a meeting, talk about how the project you’re presenting furthers the organization’s vision and mission. People will have a stronger grasp of their importance, and in turn, greater motivation, when they share the vision and goals.
- Be a Great PR Agent
To be a better boss, show how much you care about your people’s success. Sing your people’s praises in front of colleagues and superiors. This shows you’re committed to their advancement. Let them hear you giving praise, but don’t hold back if they’re out of earshot, either. If you speak highly of them in a private meeting with your own boss, mention it to them later. Your loyalty to them will increase their loyalty to you.
- Have Difficult Conversations
Embrace difficult conversations, seeing them as an opportunity for growth. A great boss is a pro at conflict resolution, and puts his mediation skills to the test if coworkers have a problem to resolve. When he’s talking to people about improving their performance, he keeps a positive focus. His coaching skills guide them toward a better understanding of how they can strengthen their work.Next time you see a difficult conversation on the horizon, ask yourself how you can make it a positive experience. Seize upon the opportunities for growth, and reflect on how you can act as a supportive coach rather than just calling out mistakes. If you want to learn more, read Practical Tactics for Crucial Communication.
- Help People Envision Their Future
Help your employees craft their career plans, envisioning the future of their dreams. An outstanding boss asks plenty of questions that help people figure out where they want to go in their careers. She shows she’s invested in her employee’s happiness. Her people look at her as a wise mentor rather than someone who’s there to criticize them.
- Focus on Work/Life Balance
Don’t assume that people will come to you to talk about problems with work/life balance. They may feel ashamed that they’re feeling burned out and stressed, or worried about your response. Check in with employees about their work/life balance regularly. If they’re having an issue, brainstorm solutions with them, being as accommodating as you can reasonably be.
Tom agreed to work on growing in these ways over the next several months. As time went on, people stopped seeing him as just a supervisor and started seeing him as a valued mentor and coach. Their trust and loyalty skyrocketed, and they felt encouraged to think creatively and take risks. Knowing they had a great boss behind them, they felt there was nothing they couldn’t accomplish together. With these tips on how to become a better boss, you’ll get there soon too, even if you’re not well on your way already!
Whether you’re an experienced boss or an aspiring one, reach out to Joel for Leadership Coaching Program.
“Those who say life is knocking them down and giving them a tough time are usually the first to beat themselves up. Be on your own side.”
As Jeremy prepared to give performance reviews for his employees, he was struck by this realization: Most of their shortcomings had nothing at all to do with ability. Rather, they were engaging in various forms of self-sabotage. They were all bright enough and quite talented—often they astounded him with their insights—but they were tripping themselves up with self-defeating behavior.
Self-defeating behavior holds all of us back at some point. For some, it can sabotage promotions or careers. To overcome your self-defeating behavior, or to help your employees overcome theirs, first pinpoint what’s going on. These are some of the most common forms of self-sabotage—chances are, you’ve engaged in many of these at one time or another.
- Dominating Conversations
You might think everyone’s listening raptly to your boundless ideas. Think again. If you’re talking over others and constantly directing the conversation, you’re not acting as either a good leader or team member.
- Avoiding Risks
Many of us engage in catastrophic thinking about potential risks (and failure often isn’t as scary as we think). Steering clear of risks means you’ll never achieve sweeping successes. If you lack trust in your own judgement about what risks are worthwhile, bring your ideas to your supervisor or mentor before you dive in head-on.
Most of us have procrastinated at some point. If you’re dreading a particular task, find ways to make it more manageable. If it’s complicated, make an outline showing how you’ll tackle it. If it’s tedious, decide to spend a fixed amount of time on it each day, and then move on.
- Shying Away from Difficult Conversations
Difficult conversations don’t get easier if you put them off—in fact, the reverse is true. Try to look at them as an opportunity for growth. Go into them with a sense of empathy for the other person, truly trying to understand her perspective. You might be surprised at what you both learn. If you want to learn more, read Practical Tactics for Crucial Communication.
- Having Tunnel Vision
Having tunnel vision is a common form of self-sabotage, say Phillip J. Decker and Jordan Paul Mitchell in Self-Handicapping Leadership. This means focusing so narrowly on one task or role that you can’t see the big picture. Think of the angry boss who is so preoccupied with finishing a task that he yells at everyone who approaches him. He doesn’t see that his attitude toward others has a lasting effect on relationships and workplace culture.
- Taking Work Home
If you’re taking work home, you’re decreasing your mental clarity at work. You might think that the more time you put into work, the more you’ll get done. Wrong. There’s a point at which you need to recharge—give yourself that time.
- Not Delegating Enough
Needing to do or control everything yourself wastes your time and tells people you don’t trust them. Micromanaging is one form of not delegating enough—because if you’re watching someone under a microscope, you haven’t truly delegated the work.
- Failing to Ask for Feedback
Fear of feedback keeps people from growing. You might be afraid to hear others’ opinions about you, or you might fear being seen as someone who needs advice. However, everyone needs advice—even executives! Whatever your shortcomings are, remember that in a few short months you could be well on your way to overcoming them—if you ask for feedback.
These three steps will help you banish self-defeating behavior:
- Identify your triggers. Know when the behavior arises, so you can consciously nip it in the bud.
- Create systems of support. Figure out who you can turn to for advice or affirmation, and tell them what you’re working on overcoming.
- Determine steps you can take to set a new pattern. Envision the behavior you want to engage in. Write notes for yourself as reminders.
Beware of one pitfall: Coping with one self-defeating behavior by replacing it with another, say Phillip and Mitchell. This tendency is all too common, they warn, giving the example of someone who avoids getting angry by steering clear of conflict. Asking for feedback from someone you trust can help make sure you’re truly addressing the behavior.
Jeremy helped his employees to grasp how they were getting in their own way. Together, they discussed steps to take in order to break out of these harmful patterns. For instance, the employee who was taking work home all the time decided to set more realistic deadlines. The employee who never took risks decided to run creative ideas by her team to see if they gained buy-in. Most importantly, by showing them that they aren’t the only ones who engage in self-defeating behavior, Jeremy helped foster a culture where employees can talk about these issues. As a result, they had a stronger system of support for overcoming them.
As an executive coach, Joel constantly is supporting his clients overcome self-defeating behaviors that are holding back their career.
“If you don’t toot your own horn, don’t complain that there’s no music.”
Janet Asks: I feel like my accomplishments go unnoticed at work and I’m not comfortable bringing them up. I want others to see my strengths and achievements, but I don’t want to come across as bragging. What should I do?
Joel Answers: No one wants to sound like they’re bragging about their own accomplishments. You want to be noticed, but not for being egotistical. However, there are plenty of ways to toot your own horn in a way that people admire and respect.
- Figure out what makes you interesting
Think about what makes you stand out at work. Do you have any hobbies most people don’t know about at work? Have you overcome any major challenges to get where you are? Figure out what aspects of your life make good stories. Sprinkle these tidbits of information into conversations at work, so coworkers see a richer picture of you.
- Create a compelling hook
Prepare how you’ll introduce yourself to new people. How can you summarize yourself in a sentence or two in a way that leaves others eager to hear more about what you do? When they have to coax more details out of you, no one will perceive you as bragging. However, don’t be too shy about opening up—when they ask, tell them more.
- Speak about recent accomplishments
When others ask what you’re doing at work these days, it’s the perfect opportunity to toot your own horn. Be prepared for those moments by mentally reviewing your latest accomplishments and current projects. Focusing on the work (rather than speaking directly about your strengths) will help you relax and start gushing about your achievements.
- Talk about your team
If you’re a manager, gushing about your team’s accomplishments shows you’re a great leader. Having pride in your team is a virtue for any leader. You won’t feel as self-conscious while focusing on them, though you’re actually speaking to your own leadership skills.
- Announce successes to organizational leaders
When you announce your successes to your boss or other leaders, no one will perceive it as bragging. They want and need to know what you’ve accomplished. In fact, it would be unprofessional not to tell them. Drop by your boss’s office; send higher-level leaders an email or give them a call, if the accomplishment seems important enough to announce to them.
- Believe in the importance of your role
When you truly believe in the positive impact you have every day, you’ll exude confidence and charisma. The enthusiasm you show for your work will draw others to you naturally. You’ll get boundless invitations to talk about how you do what you do. If you’ve gotten in a rut with your current job, reignite your passion for it by reminding yourself what you love about it and making small changes to liven up your routine.
- Get others to toot your horn
As you clue others in to your skills and achievements, they’ll naturally start tooting your horn as well, and your visibility will increase at work even more. However, it helps to ask for the support of people you trust. Cultivating relationships with advocates in your organization will build your credibility and help leaders take notice of you. Keep your advocates apprised of what you’ve accomplished, and if you’re after a promotion, tell them. People often take pride in helping others succeed.
If you were feeling awkward about tooting your own horn at work, these ideas will help those conversations feel more natural. Others will think it’s completely natural to share your achievements in these ways!