When Does Getting Credit Matter?

“In life you must often choose between getting a job done or getting credit for it.”
– Leo Szilard, physicist


Under what circumstances does it matter that you (individually, or your organized group) get credit during a process of creating change? When does that recognition help? When might it become a barrier to building support?

In an earlier post on evaluation, I mentioned the idea that it is often important to focus on contribution, rather than attribution. This a similar idea. Small, often very brave acts that complement, or build upon other small acts, all lead to the ultimate success of an effort to create change. When you are trying to give a variety of stakeholders a sense of ownership of an idea, or a goal, following just one “leader” can be disastrous (especially if that leader is self-proclaimed).

Generally speaking, building the level of trust that is necessary to accomplish increasingly greater goals, requires frequent recognition of everyone’s contributions. This one of the secret’s to effective leadership – the strategic leveraging of many peoples’ strengths in a manner that creates collaborative leadership.

I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating – it is relatively easy to organize people in opposition to something. It is much more difficult, however, to organize them to create the unfavorable thing’s replacement. Separate, independent stakeholders acting to get rid of an unjust, or unfair policy or program, should have a specific, fairly detailed replacement for the problematic policy or program in mind as they deliver their case for support of change.

Consider cases throughout history where people have taken to the streets to protest oppressive regimes, only to find that the overthrown despot has simply been replaced by another tyrant. Those demanding change have greater leverage if their outrage is not simply considered generalized opposition. If they can say that their collective indignation is united in its support for specific changes, then acknowledgement for their specific role as change agents is important, because they were not simply anti-status quo; they were advocating a very explicit change.

Getting credit is less important when people are organizing, and creating coalitions. It becomes considerably more important when the prospect of change becomes inevitable, and people are expecting the vision created from their shared values. When you can say, “here is the change we’ve been demanding,” it is far more powerful than saying, “the bad thing is gone, maybe the next thing will be better.”