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.