Teammate Keeps Taking Credit for Your Ideas? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I was lucky to land an incredibly cool job right out of school. I am in digital marketing and work on a team that supports influencers and artists, each with their own defined brand profiles. As a team, we are constantly sharing ideas, brainstorming, and coming up with creative new angles to suggest to our clients.

My problem is that one of my colleagues, who has kind of become a friend, seems to be developing a habit of telling people my ideas are actually hers. It is jarring! In our weekly meetings, my boss gives her credit for some of my original ideas. It took me a while to figure this out, but someone else on the team also noticed it so I started paying closer attention.

I haven’t said anything yet, I honestly don’t know what to say. My boss constantly talks about what a great team we are, “better together” and all that. How can I deal with this without looking like I’m throwing shade like a big whiny baby? I don’t want anyone to think I am not a team player, but I also don’t want someone else to get credit for my ideas. Plus, it is impacting the new friendship because I don’t trust her anymore.

I brought this up with some close friends and I am getting advice that’s all over the place. What do you think?

Idea Thief on the Loose


Dear Idea Thief on the Loose,

I will admit to having a reflexive reaction—that your “friend” is a snake in the grass, and you should immediately find ways to protect yourself.

Then I employed my usual process, which is to apply universal laws or principles that have proven to be sound over decades of use:

    • Give people the benefit of the doubt until you have clear evidence they do not deserve that benefit.
    • If you are feeling paranoid you might be right, unless it is a pattern for you.
    • If you have strong evidence your instincts are usually correct, you should trust them.

Which brings me back to my initial thought: Your “friend” is a snake in the grass, and you should immediately find ways to protect yourself. It is sad because there is nothing so grand as working with a thought partner or team where everyone has good ideas, people give each other credit, and the trust and synergy is so high that nobody can even remember whose idea something was.

Heeding your own experience is just smart. The worst case would be that you are wrong, Idea Thief is able to rebuild trust with you, you make a good friend, and you learn something. The best case would be that you send a message you are not to be messed with.

The question is what to do about it. How can you protect yourself without seeming oversensitive and risking being perceived as less than a team player?

Here are some thoughts:

    • Build advocacy in the group: If someone else on the team has noticed it, it won’t be long before others do, too. There might be a way to arrange for someone other than you to point out when Idea Thief acts as if something you said was her idea.
    • Don’t waste time second-guessing yourself or speculating about Idea Thief’s motives. It won’t help you.
    • If you are still spending one-on-one time with Idea Thief, under no circumstances should you talk about work, share what you are working on, or in any way reveal what you are thinking about. You may notice she tries to get you talking—resist the urge.
    • It might be tricky, but if you trust your boss you could share your concerns with them. Tricky because you don’t want to come across as a credit hog, but you do think it is important that credit be given to whom it is due. You can certainly explain that to your manager. You can also explain that you understand how lots of great ideas come from iterating with the team, but you think it is important for your boss to know where some of those ideas originated. You don’t have to whine about it but you do have to make sure they know what’s what.

I also consulted a couple of my own trusted advisors—one young person in particular told me she has seen this happen on teams and has been in your shoes. She is a few years ahead of you career-wise, and has worked in some high-pressure, cutthroat environments. Here is her advice:

“This is a growth opportunity for the letter writer; a chance for them to regularly document their ideas for visibility. It sounds like the leader isn’t doing a whole lot of leading; they are placing their focus on generating new ideas and not taking the time to see the people behind those ideas. The writer needs to bring the receipts: if they haven’t already, they must start their own independent documentation of what they bring to the table. If the manager is overlooking the person’s ideas and contributions now, what do they think will happen in their performance reviews? It’s time to protect themselves. If they have a 1:1 document shared with their manager, it’s time to start taking stock of what they bring to the team. If I were the employee, in my next 1:1 I would ask my leader for feedback on how I present my ideas. Maybe they aren’t presenting their ideas in a confident way to the group, and it allows the other person to steal their moment.”

I think that pretty much says it all, my friend. The idea of documenting all your interactions and contributions is a really good one. It might seem self-interested to you now, but the discipline will, in fact, serve you very well over time. In most businesses, yours in particular, the competition will only become more intense over time. You will always be your own best advocate. Your radar for people who don’t have your back will also be useful.

You don’t need to become a Machiavellian manipulator, but you can’t be naive either. The good news is if you stay the course and end up in a leadership position, you will be good at noticing who brings what to the table. You will have the luxury of not needing to take credit and happily sharing it with your people. I wish for you to find a super high-trust team to work with in the future, but until then: be strong, be fierce, and don’t let anyone take anything from you that you aren’t willing to give.

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a Master Certified Coach and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. She is coauthor of Blanchard’s Coaching Essentials training program, and several books including Leverage Your Best, Ditch the Rest, Coaching in Organizations, and Coaching for Leadership.

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