I’ll never forget the day I walked into a small department of spirited women. Their mission within the HR department is the mundane task of managing the employee records database. From the moment I entered their little corner of the room I realized that this group found plenty of opportunity to have a little fun with their work.
As they buzzed around full of energy and laughter, I felt as though I could be the victim of a hilarious prank at any given moment. As I looked around I saw cartoons posted on the walls, colorful mascots on the desks, and then I noticed something really extraordinary.
A uniquely designed and carefully crafted hat made of tin foil was perched prominently on the top shelf of every cubicle. I couldn’t help but ask, “What’s with the tin foil hats?”
There was a moment of silence as they looked around at each other. No one wanted to respond, so I prodded a little deeper. “C’mon you guys. I love these hats! Tell me what inspired them.”
Finally one brave soul grabbed her hat (a robin hood knock off) and put it on her head. She looked at me and said, “We use them to protect our ideas.”
After a little more prodding they finally confided that their manager had a habit of stealing and taking credit for their ideas. They went on to tell me about time after time the manager would take their ideas, pass them on to his boss or others (as his own), and leave them feeling neglected and unappreciated.
They knew that they didn’t have the power to change the self-absorbed manager, so they decided to change what they could.
They simply decided to stop sharing their ideas with him. And they decided to create the hats in case he tried to steal the ideas out of their heads. In other words, they decided to have a little fun with a difficult situation.
I took away several lessons from that brief encounter. Here are some of them:
- When people aren’t given the credit that they deserve, they shut down.
- When you’re the boss and you steal credit from your direct reports, they know, you lose all credibility, and you can become the brunt of an inside joke.
- You can steal people’s ideas, but you can’t steal their spirit.
What other lessons do you see in this story?
This post was inspired by Marshall Goldsmith’s latest book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There