Credit where credit is due
Thursday, January 02, 2020
I recently heard an accurate assessment of lazy people: they are always sticking their names on someone else’s work.
This occurs frequently in numerous situations: the politician’s proposed legislation, prominent with his name but written by his unnamed staff. Or, the academic whose name is credited on the front page of the peer-reviewed journals is actually indebted to unnamed underlings who did the bulk of the study.
This is really common in work settings where “work” is defined as the result of some committee. The committee may have 18 members, but the work was performed by three people. Yet the committee is heralded as a whole.
A graduate student recently lamented to me that his course’s main project was a “group effort” with a “group grade.”
Two of the four members of this group boldly admitted they had no intention of doing any work on the project but were content with the results performed by the other two students. But my friend’s attitude was that what he learned was more important than the grade, so it did not concern him how much work the other students did or did not do.
This is a very mature attitude, but in the workaday world, sharing credit with undeserving co-workers can really rankle — especially if a promotion or pay raise is a possible byproduct.
One woman acquired a new supervisor who had hoodwinked senior management into believing that he had more credentials and experience than was true. She had easily learned the truth by asking a few pointed questions about his work expertise. He was the epitome of a lazy and conniving supervisor: as a one-man wonder, he took all the credit for his staff’s great ideas and achievements yet pointed the blame finger at his staff when his own ideas failed.
Tired of propping up his ego, my friend left that company. One month later, left to stand on his own ideas with a mutinied staff, this fraud was revealed as a lazy intellectual thief and terminated. But he had poisoned a previously well-functioning unit with his laziness and deception.
It is not just that the lazy “workers” are not doing their fair share of the work, they can actually damage a team’s morale and stoke resentment and incite sabotage. Why work hard when you get the same kudos as your slouch co-worker?
I have learned that lazy people are excellent at creating excuses for their laziness and playing the role of victim. “I couldn’t attend the meeting because I had to attend xyz.” “You’re just picking on me because you don’t like me, and I haven’t done anything to you.” “You just don’t know what it’s like to have two small children; I don’t have the energy for this.” “Jeez, what’s the rush in getting this done; stop cracking the whip; who made you king. You are so annoying.”
One way to combat resenting a lazy member of your group or committee is to let that person stand on his own. Don’t accept responsibility for the outcome of his responsibilities.
Rather than regard the project as a communal effort with no individuals recognized, you can apportion segments or tasks to each member. If that person fails to deliver his assignment, that portion of the project is missing. Period.
No one else needs to pick up the pieces to make the project complete. And when the project is presented, and invariably the question arises as to what happened to the missing piece, the answer is, “oh, that portion was Anne’s responsibility.”
Quite a few years ago, my then-boss complimented my assistant on an article he thought she had written. She hadn’t; it was my writing. I was shocked by her replying simply, “thank you” instead of admitting she hadn’t written it all.
I had not thought of her as a thief, but accepting credit for someone else’s work is stealing. In private, I confronted her with accepting credit she had not earned. She mumbled some excuse about misunderstanding. Later that day, my boss repeated that he was very pleased with her article. I let him know that it was mine, not hers. He said, “but why didn’t she say that when I complimented her?” I thought it was pretty obvious why.
Nevertheless, after I left that job, my boss promoted her to editor, still believing she had writing ability. Again, left to stand on her own, she failed miserably, and her fraud was apparent.
You cannot protect lazy people from themselves, and you cannot enable the lazy who would steal your hard work. Let them stand on their own merits for the world to see and judge.
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