Giving Away Credit, Is It Worth It?
My first service and selflessness business lesson came as a complete surprise. I was just 23, only four months into my first “real” job flogging 3M copy machines, and had just been named the New England region’s “Salesman of the Month.” Somewhere a voice started yelling, “Speech! Speech!” and instantly it was echoing throughout the room. Utterly unprepared, I stumbled to the podium and looked out over a sea of reps, managers, and executives. Almost all were strangers to me.
Genuinely moved, I started mumbling that I owed all my success to my manager, Kevin Moriarty. Suddenly my fifteen minutes of fame was cut short by cat calls. “The hell with Moriarty!” shouted our Boston manager. “That no−good Irishman gets plenty of credit,” said another. “This is your day,” boomed the vice president. On it went until even Kevin was reduced to tears of laughter.
Suddenly all those strangers were beaming at me, and by the time I retook my seat I realized that my sincere attempt to give away my success had just come back to me many times over. It was only later that I discovered that this selfless gesture had marked me for management as well.
Giving away credit is a magical multiplier. It works equally well in business and in our personal lives. But harnessing this magic requires an attitude of gratitude. Without a sincere sense of gratitude, sharing credit is just another manipulative trick bound to backfire. I read one time that gratitude is the weakest of all human emotions, and though I’ve spent a lot of time looking for an even weaker feeling, I’ve been unable to find one. We all know that we have much to be grateful for. But in the heat of life’s daily battles, we often fail to act on this knowledge. Just like so many other secrets to success, a sense of gratitude must be cultivated into a habit before we see its magical benefits.
None of this is rocket science. It’s common sense. So why is credit stolen far more often than shared? The usual suspect is fear. We’re terrified that we’ll never see the fruits of our selfless gestures. We’re afraid we’re not as good as we want others to think we are. But this is where faith must play its part. The tipping point ironically comes when we don’t actually care whether the credit comes back or not. Paradoxically, the formula works best for those who don’t use it as a formula at all. Instead it has become a way of life where, as Aristotle said, virtue has become its own reward.
Warren Buffett is a great example. His annual reports are full of praise for subordinates. When Berkshire is successful it is always “we,” but when “mistakes are made” Buffet takes the blame. Some may argue that it is easy for the world’s richest man to be so magnanimous, but I would counter that Buffett became so successful because of this character trait.
Buffett himself doesn’t attribute his success to Wharton Business School, his stock picking prowess, or even his legendary mentor, Ben Graham. Instead he credits Dale Carnegie’s selfless philosophy coupled with years of effort for transforming himself into a person that others could trust. The world of business eagerly awaits Buffett’s letter to shareholders every year. But for every person looking for tips on how to do business with openness, candor, and authenticity, a million others are just looking for stock tips.
Becoming a person who naturally and reflexively gives away success is seldom the result of a sudden epiphany. It requires work, which usually means faking it at first. Hamlet famously tells his mother that if she acts virtuously long enough, she will one day become a virtuous person. This might seem to contradict my earlier admonition that sincerity is critical, but it doesn’t. In this case our sincerity lies in our genuine aspiration to one day become a truly selfless person.
I’ve never forgotten a homily that was so short and simple it was almost simplistic. “The Sea of Galilee is teeming with fish and life,” the priest began. “The Dead Sea is dead and devoid of life. They are both fed by the sparkling water of the River Jordan, so what’s the difference? The Sea of Galilee gives all its water away. The Dead Sea keeps it all for itself. Like the Dead Sea, when we keep all that is fresh and good for ourselves, we turn our lives into a briny soup of salty tears.” Amen.
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What do I do?
"Fake it" by creating a habit of giving away credit once a week.