January/February 2022

Taking the Lead: The Power of Giving Credit

Linda Klein and John Hinton IV
“It's amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

This quote, credited to President Harry Truman, served to remind the leader of the free world and those who worked in his administration that they would achieve much more by being generous with the credit for the administration’s successes than by keeping that credit for oneself. That piece of wisdom is equally applicable to our law practices. When a law firm has a culture in which credit and opportunity is shared rather than hoarded, the firm is better able to grow and thrive.

The Benefits of a Sharing Culture

No one likes to feel that their contributions will not be recognized and rewarded. No one likes to feel that their job is a dead end. It is human nature to expect credit for the success of tasks in which one has participated. It is equally important to create opportunity so everyone can grow professionally. Receiving credit, opportunity and recognition for your contribution leads to rewards (both financial and otherwise) and opens the door to future success. It often meets deep needs for recognition. However, when team members focus on who will receive the credit or the next opportunity, it takes some measure of the team’s collective attention and commitment away from the task at hand. Indeed, it can lead a person to act in ways detrimental to the mission—whether to ensure one receives credit or to ensure that someone else does not receive the next opportunity. When people within an organization perceive that the culture is dominated by co-workers looking to advance their own interests, a culture of self-interested actions develops. Self-preservation limits the team’s potential.

On the other hand, a leader who allows others to share in the success relieves the pressure in others to fight for recognition and opportunity. Team members are free to focus their time and mental energy on the mission’s success. Everyone benefits in the long run as the organization gets the most out of each team member. A rising tide lifts all ships.

However, the most successful leaders proactively seek ways to ensure that team members are receiving credit for the team’s success and receiving opportunities to create its success. That type of leadership is noticed. Recipients of such sharing are grateful and loyal. Equally important, they are more committed to the leader and the firm that empowers that leader because they see a future filled with personal achievement. Who wouldn’t want to work for and with someone who is looking out for the entire team this way?

Taking the Lead on Building a Credit-Sharing Culture

Although a firm ultimately benefits from a mission-focused culture, there are unavoidable up-front costs. Allowing others to take credit for success and sharing opportunities requires sacrificing one’s own short-term self interest in reaping the benefits of success. If everyone else in your office is quick to grab credit for achievements, then the payoff for sharing the credit for your successes may seem unwise. Who wants to go first when there is no other guarantee that it will be reciprocated? That is why this effort needs to start at the top. Firm leaders have much more capital and goodwill to spare. They don’t need credit for every success. When firm leaders model this behavior—especially when it costs them to do so, they set the tone that it is important and even expected. Regardless, an individual lawyer, whether or not in leadership, can make an impact by looking for ways to share credit within her own sphere of influence.

Practical Ways to Develop a Firmwide Credit-Sharing Culture

Some forms of sharing involve financial ledgers, and some are about opening doors for others. However, some lawyers are too junior in their careers for either. You can allow an associate who played significant role on a matter deliver good news directly to the client.

You can assure that an employee’s direct supervisor knows of that employee’s contribution to a successful outcome. Even a thank-you given in person to a team member, or better yet in front of others, helps ensure that person participates in the team’s achievements.

Give some thought today as to how you can share the wealth of opportunities with those around you.

Linda Klein

Senior Managing Shareholder

Linda Klein, is a past president of the ABA and senior managing shareholder at Baker Donelson. She is a frequent speaker on law practice, construction and higher education law. lklein@bakerdonelson.com

John Hinton IV


John Hinton IV, is a shareholder in Baker Donelson’s Atlanta office. His practice focuses on commercial litigation and construction law. jhinton@bakerdonelson.com

The material in all ABA publications is copyrighted and may be reprinted by permission only. Request reprint permission here.