Thursday, September 16, 2010

But He's Stealing My Thunder!

You work hard, are creative and come up with great ideas.  The only problem is that someone else in your lab is getting credit for your work.  Things were fine initially.  You did your work, and the lab director seemed to recognize your contributions.  Then Boyd arrived.  He was a one-man PR machine.  Initially, you were amused at his blatant self-promotion.  Then he was assigned to head up a project, and you were told to work on his team. You soon discovered that he was taking credit for your innovative ideas and was telling the lab director how he was having to do everything to keep the project on track.  He was always in the director's office bragging about something or asking for funds to attend some conference (just him, not the rest of the team).

You finally work up your courage and go to the director to complain.  You sit there explaining how all the creative ideas and progress on the project are due to your efforts, and that Boyd is misrepresenting his role. You also complain about how Boyd is always getting to go to conferences to present the project's findings.  When you finish, you notice that the lab director is scowling.  You think, "Alright. He's displeased with Boyd stealing credit for my work!" 

However, the director says, "I find what you're saying hard to believe--I see no evidence that what you are telling me is true.  Boyd has been keeping me updated regularly on the project's progress.  He's a real go-getter and a team-player.  I've sent him to conferences to deliver papers on the project's progress--because he's the team leader. Are you questioning my decisions?  In fact, I've never heard a peep out of you about the project.  There's no room in my lab for professional jealousy.  I suggest you focus on your assigned work and spend less time worrying about what Boyd is doing."

You stumble back to your office in a daze.  What just happened?  How could the director be so blind?

The problem with dealing with people like Boyd is that you can't cancel out weeks or months of PR by simply complaining that he's stealing your thunder.  The only way to fight credit theft is to develop your own PR campaign--one that makes it difficult for others to claim credit for your work.  Here are some ideas for combating credit theft:

1. Develop a good self-promotion plan, which includes bragging points that can be trotted out instantly.  The place to start is to answer the list of questions posed in the previous post.

2. Prepare a regular update of your accomplishments and plans for the upcoming weeks and send it via email to your boss or adviser.  This way, there is a written record of your ideas and contributions.  If Boyd happens to claim credit for some idea that you've previously mentioned to the boss, s/he's more likely to question Boyd as to whose idea it really is.

3. Meet regularly with your boss or adviser to reiterate what you've stated in your regular progress reports.  You can be subtle about this.  Include some data, graphs, or models in your report that you use to point out some potentially interesting new avenue of research or a possible modification in the overall plan. The idea is that you are keeping the boss informed and are seeking his/her input as to how best to proceed.

4. During lab meetings, speak up.  Explain some new idea or insight you've had about the project.  You have to plan this ahead of time.  Be sure to begin with some statement about your long experience in your particular field or previous experience that gives you special insight into the problem.  In other words, contribute your ideas in front of witnesses so that Boyd cannot easily claim credit for them.

5. After lab meetings with the director and team members, send an email to the lab director summarizing the ideas you have mentioned....and cc everyone in attendance.  You would be amazed at how easily it is for someone like Boyd to rewrite history...if it's not documented in writing.  If anyone attributes your ideas to Boyd, you can pull out your email from the archive and use it to re-emphasize your role in the development of the idea.  You might say something like, "I agree that taking that approach is a great plan.  If you recall, I suggested it at our May lab meeting, and the entire team has been great at taking my idea and implementing it.  Good work!"

6. Work up the courage to ask for rewards for your hard work--to be sent to a conference to report your team's findings or to be the one selected to summarize the team's progress at the next client meeting.  You can justify such requests by saying that you would really appreciate the leadership experience--and that this will benefit the lab's overall expertise in dealing with clients.

7. Finally, if you can stomach it, periodically compliment Boyd in front of the boss.  Such an action will make you appear to be more of a leader and not just a jealous member of his team.

You can probably think of some other techniques along these lines to counteract credit thieves.

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