What can Michelle Forbes teach us about giving credit?

Michelle Forbes? The actress? Yes.

Ms. Forbes appeared in two productions that contained themes about giving credit where credit is due.

As pictured above, Michelle appeared in a Seinfeld episode where she played Julie, George Costanza’s love interest.  She was accused of taking credit for the purchase of Elaine’s big salad.

In the 1994 movie “Swimming with Sharks” she played alongside Frank Whaley, and was there to help pick up the pieces when Kevin Spacey (playing Frank’s boss) takes the credit for work that Frank’s character had done.

Both stories remind us how important it is to give credit where it’s due, as well as what can happen if you don’t (even if those outcomes are enhanced by Hollywood storytelling).

In the Seinfeld episode, George paid for Elaine’s big salad, but Julie handed it to Elaine. Elaine thanked Julie, leaving George feeling under-appreciated for his efforts.  George later tells Elaine that he paid for the big salad, and then Elaine makes an off-handed remark to Julie in a later scene.  Julie then confronts George, and all sitcom hell breaks loose.  Julie and George argue and break up.

The Swimming with Sharks example is a little more extreme.  Guy (Frank Wahley) is Buddy’s (Kevin Spacey) assistant.  To say that Buddy would win worst boss of the millennium is an understatement.  The last straw is when Buddy promises to tell his boss about Guy’s contribution on a current project, but instead takes 100% of the credit, right in front of Guy.

Guy’s reaction?  He breaks into Buddy’s house, ties him up and tortures him. It’s not pretty.

Not giving credit for other peoples’ ideas or contributions can be way too easy at times.  We already know that most people feel they don’t get enough thanks and recognition, so when a sincere thank you comes their way, it can be hard to deflect it to its rightful owner.

But we need to make a conscience effort to do so, especially if we don’t want to end up tied to a chair with Frank Whaley waving a gun at us.

Even though it may seem that giving away credit is the same as giving away credibility, it’s not.  Here are some ways that sharing the credit can help you:

  • Builds trust – employees see that you believe in them and are willing to go out on a limb to help them.  They also see you putting their needs ahead of your own. That shows that you care about them as a person, not just an employee.
  • Increases input – nothing can survive in a vacuum and no leader can succeed without input and suggestions from their team.  Giving credit encourages more ideas to flow. Taking the credit yourself will stop those ideas in their tracks.
  • Shows you are a good leader – people who take the ideas as their own sometimes are doing so to make themselves look good.  As a leader, your job is to develop those around you and sharing great ideas (and the credit for where they came from) shows that you foster greatness in your team, not just yourself.  Ultimately you are judged by your teams performance and accomplishments.  Why wouldn’t you want to show those off?

In true “giving credit” fashion, I must acknowledge Ms. Forbes and the cast, writers and crews of Seinfeld and Swimming with Sharks. This post would not have been possible without them.

Thanks for reading!


Not giving credit causes employees to burnout and not perform up to their potential.  To learn more about my research about employee burnout what it takes to overcome it in your business, click here.

What would you do?

If you were an employee in the restaurant where this photo was taken and you saw this piece of paper, what would you do?Trash pic copyIf you were the manager of this restaurant and you saw this piece of paper, what would you do?

If you were the manager and you knew that one of your employees saw it and kicked it to it’s current location rather than picking it up, what would you do?

If you were the manager and knew that 7 of your employees (including another manager) walked past this piece of paper without picking it up, what would you do?

If you were the manager and knew that an employee had stared at this piece of paper for so long one would think he was trying to levitate it, but ultimately didn’t pick it up, what would you do?

Would you want to know why your employees were providing great service at the tables (which they were) but were not attending to this simple housekeeping task? I would, too.

What do you think? Why was this piece of paper sitting there for over an hour with no attempt to throw it away?  Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading!


Comparing Influences

Teflon Coated Dreams. Fast Forward. Touch. Snafu. Exit 4. Virtual Dandelion. Left of Center. The Anne Deming Band. Nine Tall Booms. Voodoo Hodown.

What do all these names have in common? They are all names of bands I have been in over the years. In each case, before we picked up our instruments to make some sort of music, we talked about our influences.We discussed what other bands, musicians and music moved us, what had entered into our musical consciousness and could (ability permitting) be heard in the way express ourselves on our instruments.

It was a critical conversation, and one that had to happen before the creative process could begin. It allowed us to get to know each other as people and as players, and instantly created a strong bond or told us “this might not work”. Ultimately, it was about finding common ground.

I wondered the other day what would happen if we adopted some of this process when we hire employees (or even talk to them about their career goals)?

Now, with full disclosure, it will be no surprise to anyone reading this that this is by no means a fool proof system, as evidenced by how many bands break-up over creative differences versus how many actually stay together. However, it could be argued that perhaps the “influences” conversation didn’t initially go deep enough for the bands who didn’t make it, or, someone in the band got too big for their britches.

As part of the process of getting to know potential applicants or your current employees, what can be gained by asking them what, or who, has influenced them in the past?

  • How they think: often you will hear about a situation that happened, and why it was good or bad. You may now have a better idea about how they will react to things in your workplace.
  • What they value: what did they learn, or takeaway from the experience that shaped who they are? Do those values match yours, or those of your company?
  • What moves (or motivates) them: did this situation or person move them to action in anyway, whether wanting to follow their lead or avoid their mistakes?

If you like the idea of having a better understanding of what your applicants/employees think, what they value and what motivates them, maybe it’s time to ask them about their influences.

Let me know how it goes!

Thanks for reading!


About the author: In case you were wondering, some of Matt’s musical influences include Rush, Marillion, Yes, Pink Floyd, & Living Colour.  If you are familiar with those artists, does that give you an idea of what he values, how he thinks, and what motivates him?

The Ceiling Fan Saga

The other day, my friend Vince told me a story that I like to call, “The Ceiling Fan Saga”.  To get you up to speed quickly, here is the Cliff’s Notes version:

Vince and his wife Brenda acquired a ceiling fan from a friend who was moving.  In the process of the taking the fan down, the glass around the lights broke.  After trips and calls and online ordering from Home Depot, Vince and Brenda still didn’t have the right piece of replacement glass for the fan.  Vince finally gets the name of someone who he thinks can help him.  He is told that “Anne” will call in a few days and all will be resolved.

A few days go by.  No call.  A few more, still no call.  Vince calls the person who told him that Anne would call (because they wouldn’t give him Anne’s number).  He said there had been no call from Anne, no messages, and not even a missed call recorded on the caller ID.

“Yeah”, Anne’s colleague said, “Anne doesn’t really like to leave messages.”

Seriously? Someone who has a job of communicating and helping people OVER THE PHONE won’t leave a message?  Interesting.

Unfortunately, this saga is still ongoing, so I don’t have a resolution for you, but I do have a question.

How many of your employees are good at most parts of their job, but not the entire job? And is their deficiency the most important part of their job?

I would say that Anne’s willingness to leave a message is a pretty critical part of her job.  It’s like when I hear leaders talking about their employees saying, “Well, they are a really good cashier, they balance and know the promotions, but they are not good at talking with the guests.”

Isn’t that as much a part of their job as everything else?  Maybe it is on paper, but that’s not what is being enforced.  We are allowing that employee to not be good (or even passable) at a critical part of the job because they are competent at one that is easier to measure.

How about this: an employee that is loyal, willing to work any time, will jump in to clean and do the dirty work, yet is borderline rude with the guests and says very inappropriate things that require immediate damage control (true story)?

Reading that, you would probably say “get rid of him”, yet those scenarios seem to happen all the time.  We stop short of expecting some of our employees to actually rise to ALL of the expectations we have.

So here is your challenge: The next time you start to utter the phrase, “They may not be good at X, but it’s okay because they are really good at Y”, think about the implications of that person not being good at X.  They could impacting customer service, employee morale and teamwork. Then identify what it would take to make them better at X, and help them get there.

You can also think about this way… if, as a leader, you are not helping your employees improve their skills, someone might say about you, “Well, they are really good with numbers but they can’t coach their employees.”

In that case you wouldn’t be doing all of your job, either.

Thanks for reading!


About the author:  Did you know that Matt is writing a book about employee burnout?  You can read more about it (including a sample chapter) by clicking here, or hear him talk about it on a recent appearance on Blog Talk Radio.