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In many books about management and leadership, I've read that it is a good practice to give credit to others (the individuals) when someone in the team - or the whole team - does well, but take "credit" oneself when something goes wrong.

As this is my first management role, I am a bit confused about these guidelines, and why and when it is best to apply them or not.

I am especially not sure how this applies to communicating with the rest of the company (other teams/units, senior management, etc.). What I generally do when communicating outside is always say "we": e.g. we found this opportunity and seized it; we found a mistake and corrected it; we made a mistake and corrected it. This way our team as a whole did something good, and if something goes bad, our team as a whole takes responsibility and fixes it.

When speaking within the team (team meetings, team e-mails, etc.), I always praise and thank the individuals who achieved something great. If someone did something wrong, I tell them privately.

What do you think are the benefits of my current approach vs. the management books' guidelines?

NOTES: I believe that part of my confusion is due to the fact that I humbly assume:

  1. If someone achieved something great in the team, it is thanks to me that he was actually enabled to that process; I hired him, trained him, and gave him the instruction, etc. Do I lose the limelight when I become a manager? How am I supposed to showcase my performances and achievements to the company, in order to gain visibility and get promoted to the next step - if everyone else is doing the actual hands-on work?
  2. If any one individual takes credit for something that went wrong, wouldn't that put them in danger of being blacklisted from the potential promotion candidates?
  3. What does the rest of the company actually care about the specific individuals - whether it was something good or bad?
  • It is always good to mention team members who have preformed some aspect of the project well. A boss might bump into that person and praise them. You might have someone from your team backing you up who will spread the word. You can tell team who you mentioned. // As you pointed out blaming team members is a bad idea. No matter how badly the team member preformed you end up looking like the bigger idiot. – MaxW Feb 13 '17 at 2:17
  • I can only tell you my own personal motto, "It's always 'we' until it's 'I' who makes the mistake." – Teacher KSHuang Feb 13 '17 at 7:54
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You stand by the team, in good times as in bad times. Try to use the "Our team" and the "we" formulation as much as possible, because as a manager, you represent your team and you speak for your team. If action is to be taken and in particular, something goes wrong and corrective action is to be taken, use the "I" formulation because you are taking charge as the leader of the team and personally seeing to it that the action item is taken care of. If action was taken, then revert back to the "we" formulation because you are back to speaking for the team.

Proceed on the premise that any successes are due to teamwork and the correct formulation is therefore "we", and that any failures are due to leadership and the correct formulation is therefore "I".

Within the team, give individual members of the team the accountability - good or bad - that is due them. Recommend the team members for promotion and/or raises, and give references as appropriate.

Don't worry about giving credit to yourself. If your superiors are capable managers themselves, they will recognize a good manager when they see one and properly credit your team's performance to your leadership. If they aren't good managers, then you've got yourself a problem.

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My rule usually is: if one person did most of the work, or had all of the idea, they get the upfront credit, and the team the secondary credit. If it truly was a team effort, the whole team gets the upfront credit.

I agree with your "praise in public, criticise in private" approach - definitely the best way.

However, I suspect that notes are what your question is really about. Frankly, as a manager your success is bound up in the success of your team - you get the visibility through leading a team that is delivering. People recognise this and a well-run team is credited to the manager.

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Welcome to the ranks of supervisors!

Everything that happens in your team reflects on you: the good, the bad, and the ugly. But as a manager, as you have noticed, the only thing you can actually do is assemble a good team and support them while they do good work. That means your task is to give your team energy and hope, and to remove obstructions for them.

So, when one of your team members does something visibly excellent, you give him the credit. You say "George did this and that by thinking creatively." When they do something good together, you say "My team completed the xyz task by sharing the workload effectively." When people hear this kind of praise, they will think, "I too can think creatively!" or "We too can share our workload!" and your team's success will become contagious.

If your team runs into problems outside their control, you are expected to speak on their behalf to other managers. "We're running late. My people were unable to start the xyz task on time because it seems the abc task wasn't completed. Can you help me understand what to do about that?"

If a member of your team causes some sort of problem, publicly you say "I have a difficulty in my team which I am working to resolve." Then you work with the person to solve the problem.

What will be the topics of your personal performance review? The successes and failures of your team.

  • When your boss tells you, "it took you a long time to deal with that problem employee, but you did it," that's a positive statement.
  • When she says, "you have done well teaching your team members to share the workload" that's excellent.
  • If your boss asks you, "what was your personal role in getting them to share the xyz workload?" you should explain that you explained the task, explained its importance, and suggested that they would do well to divide up the work.
  • When she says, "George was a great hire!" you accept and share credit for that by saying, "thank you! he came to us because he's a friend of Tim's" (or whatever is true).
  • I think this is an excellent answer. Mostly because it's what I would have said. If I may also add, I would say that "anything related to management (good or bad)," you may take the credit for it since you are the manager. Anything related to technical, you may take the blame and say, "We'll get right on it," but never take the credit unless it really had been you who had done it. And a guiding principle as some last parting words for both credit and blame, "It's always 'we' until it's 'I' who makes the mistake." – Teacher KSHuang Feb 13 '17 at 7:53
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So... taking on the specific questions in an internal company context... there's a fair bit of "it depends on the situation" here because you may have wildly different relationships with groups, even within your own company. I definitely change my tone and approach depending on my audience - both the nuances of how my team will be working with the other team, and also the rapport I have with the other person I'm speaking to and the degree of privacy involved.

If someone achieved something great in the team, it is thanks to me that he was actually enabled to that process; I hired him, trained him, and gave him the instruction, etc. Do I lose the limelight when I become a manager?

You loose the limelight in the same way that the coach of the team looses the limelight in a sporting event. During the game, the announcers are and should be talking about the awesome (or abysmal) actions of the individual players - the slam dunk, the great pass, or the awesome tackle. It's not "wow, what a great coach, he really taught that guy to tackle", it's "that player did a great thing". For the coach to run onto the field claiming credit makes the coach look a bit cheap.

But - in between games, when the moments of glory are over, the coaches get talked about. Listen to any long sports discussion segment and it's about what the coach is doing with the team. Did he make a great hire, who knew that this player would be so good in that position? What great coaching! Generally the coach doesn't have to sit there and toot his own horn, the play of the overall team is the judgement of his worth.

It's just a different limelight. And not one that is quite so directly shown upon you. A lot of the really good feedback about a boss comes through behind your back. When people love or hate their boss, it comes through to the higher level management as praise and complaints that you won't necessarily hear.

How am I supposed to showcase my performances and achievements to the company, in order to gain visibility and get promoted to the next step - if everyone else is doing the actual hands-on work?

The same way you did before. Look for challenges that you and your team can take on. Now you have a bigger scope to accomplish them, because it's not your work alone. See a problem? Suggest that you tackle it with your team. Do point out the productivity of your team, and talk about things that you (as a team) are doing to change it.

If any one individual takes credit for something that went wrong, wouldn't that put them in danger of being blacklisted from the potential promotion candidates?

I don't agree with taking undue blame, I do endorse taking responsibility. You can't know everything or fix everything. If someone has acted against your direction - say so and let the person take the blame. If the mistake is truly a mistake from a bad process or poor team communication, say so, and propose a better way. That's taking responsibility - not blame. From time to time, you may also be in the position of saying "fixing this sort of problem is not worth our time, and I will take responsibility for that decision on a large scale and any bad impacts... because I'm also taking responsibility for getting the right things done on time and on budget."

The individual mistake (one guy making an error) is not your fault, but if your team makes the same error over and over again, having a team that can't change its ways is your problem the same way that having a team that makes success after success is to your credit.

What does the rest of the company actually care about the specific individuals - whether it was something good or bad?

Most teams don't work in a bubble. Individuals from your team work with individuals on other teams. Those individuals care very deeply about finding the right guy for the right action.

Also - teams change - your team won't be the same people in two years - I can almost guarantee that you will loose or gain people as the team morphs with the company. Other managers and individuals in the company are actively wondering if your team members may be good for their teams, or if they can get into your cool team when an opening is available - who your team are as individuals and how you treat the individuals on your team is very much a critical factor here.

More importantly - the company is the entity paying these people - not you. So someone somewhere is trying to figure out how much budget your staff consumes and if each and every one of them is worth it. You may have a say in how salaries and bonuses roll forth - but I doubt if you have unlimited control - so in addition, at least a few others in your company care about knowing the value of the individuals on your team, and assessing that in monetary terms, both within the team and across teams.

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