Last Updated Sep 18, 2009 11:23 AM EDT
My boss is desperate to show his bosses that he's able to come up with good ideas and so he wants to take credit for my work. I feel like one of those characters from that movie, 9 To 5. What should I do?
Because this is your boss, there's unfortunately not a lot you can do about this in the short term, but there are some longer-term things you can focus on. The first is to think about what kind of support or favors you might get from your boss in the future in exchange for your acquiescence. Convey to him your expectation that you'll be rewarded in some way for your help-"I hope you remember this when my review comes up," you might say, or "I hope I get some credit the next time I have an idea like this." If your boss seems desperate for more ideas, you can even continue to feed some to him, but in this case you can be more explicit about asking for something tangible in return. More generally, it's important for you to not feel like a victim here, but instead to think pro-actively about how you can use this situation to your advantage.
Should your boss's behavior continue in the future without any reciprocation, one way to protect yourself is to make sure there are enough people--ideally, senior people--around you that are aware of your contributions to some of these projects or ideas that your boss is taking credit for. Send emails around noting progress that you've made and responding to feedback and concerns; eventually, it'll start to be understood that you're playing a key role and more, especially if you've been good about developing a general reputation at your company for doing quality work. One of your goals here is to make sure that you have some support in case your boss continues to take advantage of you--in particular, support for moving you to work for another boss entirely if necessary.
If you want to be even more aggressive, you could subtly encourage people to ask critical questions about the project that will undermine your boss's claims to have come up with the idea or developed it himself. For example, you might bring up a point in an email discussion that begs a larger question that you know your boss won't be able to answer. This will make it clearer who's really driving things, particularly if it's in a public setting where your boss's lack of expertise will be even more exposed.
I saw this once with a senior manager at a consumer goods company whose boss had taken credit for her idea. This manager responded by going around to other people in her company who had a stake in the idea and planting the seed for some hard, critical questions to be asked at an upcoming meeting. Her boss couldn't respond effectively and ultimately had to defer to her, and it soon became clear to every one in the room whose idea it really was.
Your goal is not to have some dramatic confrontation or showdown with your boss, as satisfying as that might feel in the moment. Because even if you're successful at wresting back credit for your idea, you may still have to deal with your boss's wrath afterwards. Better to one, make sure that you're clear with your boss that you expect something in return for his appropriation of your ideas, and two, to make sure enough people know what's really going on in case that expectation isn't met and you need to plan your exit strategy.
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