Question: Issues in reporting to an idealist manager

As a team of six managers, we form the core of the research department in an consumer products company. My boss is a long-serving, friendly and very competent head of the department.

He is also an idealist. So much so that many of our initiatives are credited to other divisions (with greater political savvy) in the wider organization.

We have brought this up in our meetings, but our manager believes "true merit" sooner or later rises to the top.

Maybe so. Problem is, it leaves the rest of us feeling undervalued.

4 Expert Insights

Your boss brings to mind the Harry Truman quote, "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit". Although humility is a wonderful attribute for a leader, most do not feel the need to be humble of behalf of their staff.  In fact, there is a risk for your boss of extinguishing the productive behaviors of your team due to the lack of reinforcement. I very much doubt that is his intention.

It certainly seems reasonable to have a conversation with your boss about this situation; the question is: Who should have that conversation? You or another member of your team might not be as effective as a respected peer who could advocate on your behalf with your boss. Any leader who understands the contribution your research department makes to the company should be concerned about giving credit where credit is due and maintaining your research capabilities as a strength of the company.

I understand your bosses position as well as yours. You want your department to get the credit for what you do and I am wondering why this is not happening. I do not think your boss has to remind everybody of his departments contributions though as part of his reporting this should be obvious.
Maybe if all of you write and sign a letter to your boss asking him to make sure that the work that is done in your department gets appropriate recognition. If all of you sign such a letter he might be more willing to do something about it.

With faults and imperfections, your boss is still your boss. Your options are to grin and bear it, leave or try again to influence him.

First way to influence is by performing above expectations. Demonstrate that you have valuable expertise and deliver on it.
That is a way to build trust. Apparently, you boss does not value prestige and recognition as much as you do. So accept that. What you can do is to have a serious conversation with him about you. Not your peers, not him, you.

Describe to him your long term plan in life.  What drives you, what motivates you, what gives you a sense of satisfaction?  What you want to achieve in life?  What are your professional career goals and objectives. These will probably be very different from his. You can't change yours and he is definitely not going to change his and he shouldn't have to.

What you can do is propose a trade.  You will work as hard as possible to deliver everything he asks for and more.  In return, you ask for him to recognize you publicly (email, newsletter, etc.)  with all of your key stakeholders.   You can also ask for projects with more exposure to others who can witness your work first hand. You can also ask for his permission to provide information to outsiders about what you are doing and what accomplishments you have made.  What's important to him, is not to you. What's important to you, is not to him. However, there is a trade in there:  Your expertise, for his positional power and authority.  Try it.  

As your boss suggests, "true merit" sooner or later DOES rise to the top -- except, of course, when it does not!

Therein lies the rub.

Unmet needs -- especially like "feeling undervalued" -- can cause terrible distraction in the workplace. Even worse, it can negatively affect the work you do as you (inadvertently, but likely) shift your attention from doing exemplary work to getting more recognition regardless of the quality of work you do.

So know this: the workplace is NOT the place to try to get your unmet needs met. The point of one's job is to do the job, not try to use it to fulfill a personal need for greater recognition, or some such. Pardon the harshness, but if you want to be adored, get a puppy!  

Then consider this: What, specifically, do you want to hear from whom about the value you (and the other managers) are providing to the larger organization?

• Is it a pat-on-the-back from the boss? A special recognition dinner hosted by your boss' boss? Something in between? What?
• Is it a note in your personnel file? A front-page story in the company's newsletter extolling  your amazing contributions to the cause? Something in between? What?
• Is it some extra comp time? A seat on a high-level/high-visibility task force? Something in between? What?

Get as specific and granular about it as you can -- and then work to achieve that goal as creatively and diligently and professionally as you would any other issue you face.

But whatever you do, don't get all needy and whiny about it! That's just bad form. (Not that I'm saying you or the others ARE getting all needy and whiny about it, but IF you are, think: Puppies, ha-ha!)

Let me know if you'd like to talk through some of the follow-up questions you, no doubt, have.