Taking Credit Isn’t Rocket Science—or a Pocket Rocket

During research for my book, Ambition Is Not A Dirty Word, I e-mailed queries to thousands of high-achieving women and always received a flood of responses. But after sending this one—“What advice do you have for other professionals, and what works for you when it comes to the art of taking credit at work?”—my inbox remained conspicuously empty. 

I might as well have asked, “Who has a vibrator in her bedroom nightstand and for those of you who do, do you mind if I use your real name in this book and include a photo of you holding your special friend?”

Countless women choose to remain silent—or put themselves through a self-punishing, mighty internal battle to justify speaking up and taking credit. Why do we do it?  Women are socialized to believe that being consummate team players is our natural strength and that going after individual credit—is antithetical to that value. So unlike our brethren, we give it away.

Consider how Adrianne, a thirty-two-year-old marketing exec, sold herself short: 

“A huge project opportunity came in. Candidates had to submit comprehensive pitch materials to the prospective client on short notice. My boss was away on a family emergency, so I was in charge. I had to gather pieces from sales, publicity, financial, etc., but I was the architect of the whole pitch process, responsible for making all of the creative and judgment calls.  When I got the congratulatory call, the new client singled me out as a crucial factor in awarding the deal to our firm. When my boss returned, he said, ‘I don’t know who wrote this pitch, but it’s perfectly positioned.’ I told him that we all worked on it, it was a team effort, the usual ‘girl’ stuff. When I got back to my desk, I felt like crap for not taking credit.”

Blown a chance to shine? Turn that around.

When Adrianne  went back to her desk, she only spent about ten minutes “feeling like crap” before she wrote her boss an e-mail saying, “I don’t know why I couldn’t tell you this when you asked, but the truth is, I led that project—and I wrote that pitch letter.” The result? He reiterated that it was a great job and Adrianne “felt a million times better.”

The next time someone says, “I don’t know who did this, but great job!” about work you’ve spearheaded, reply without missing a beat with: “Thank you. I did that. I appreciate your comments.”

Ensuring that we get the credit we deserve is an absolute prerequisite for earning leadership opportunities, recognition, promotions, and a salary commensurate to expertise and contributions. It’s okay to say, “Yes, I (not we) made the thing happen”.

And that’s not rocket science; that’s being ambitious—with integrity.

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I am a business psychologist, researcher, author, executive coach, and career advisor. I lead workshops and lecture frequently on women’s need to embrace our ambition. I founded the Women’s Business Alliance, a motivational think tank for more than 2,500 women. For more details, see my about page.

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