I am rarely speechless. But this . . . this left me without speech.

Never before had I witnessed a business owner/CEO so publicly kick his top salesman— metaphorically speaking—in the groin.

I was sitting in a year-end sales meeting with a client. The top sales rep had just finished sharing the story of how he recently secured the firm’s largest client in five years. Sucking the air out of the room, the owner jumped in during the team’s applause.

“Let’s be honest,” the owner began. “You just happened to be in the office that day and picked up the phone. I’ve been pursuing that client for years and deserve a percentage of the commission. Good job though.”

The owner seemed unaffected by the stunned silence in the room. He continued on, jumping to the next item on the meeting agenda.

Confronting the owner after the meeting, I asked, “How do you think that went?” probing for his level of awareness to the obvious indignation he earned from his team.

“Fine. Why?”

“Well, I am puzzled as to why you chose to stomp out the celebration. And I was surprised you’d want a commission on the sale when you own the company. When your salespeople win, you win. Right?”

“Sure. I just wanted some credit for the sale, too. It’s a big deal.”

Two weeks later, his top salesman quit.

I didn’t ask the owner if he deserved credit for that.

Shortly thereafter, I tuned into ESPN only to hear former L.A. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher saying he deserved credit for building the successful 2017 Rams roster. “They're basically—I don't want to say my players—but I had a lot to do with that roster.”

Sure, Jeff. You’re right. The 2016 roster you led is very similar to the 2017 roster, which begs the obvious question, why weren’t you able to win more?

To boot, Fisher had three quarterbacks on his roster in 2016. All played terribly. One year removed from Fisher’s leadership, those three QB’s have performed much better. Jared Goff went from a bust to All-Pro. Case Keenum went from near-retirement to leading the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship.

Annoyed yet again by a leader’s cry for credit, I change channels only to hear Donald Trump taking credit for the stock market (only when it goes up, mind you), airlines’ safety records, and that day’s sunrise.

Geez, I thought. Is this “credit carding” by leaders simply a few random events that I’ve just begun to notice? Or are the accepted norms of leadership actually changing?

Are there positive effects for the team when leaders—from business owners to head coaches to presidents—publicly demand acknowledgment for the credit they feel they deserve?

Ego is the enemy. A healthy ego is important, but overplaying a strength results in weakness. Too often a strong ego (or the attempt to project one) results in salespeople taking credit not only from teammates, but clients and prospects, too.

During a Behind Your Back Podcast episode, guest Tim Rethlake of Hearth and Home Technologies articulated it this well.

"You’ve got to have a pretty strong ego. And what I mean by that is, your ego has to be strong enough that you're willing to let the customer be the hero instead of you. We're not the knight upon the charging steed. We're just the page that's there, handing up the lance and the shield, so the customer can be the hero."

No, I don’t believe the behaviors of great leaders are changing.

I advised the business owner (the one with one fewer top salesmen) to focus on Four C’s of Leadership:

  • Create and repeat your vision often
  • Clear obstacles in your team’s path
  • Coach your team daily to make them better
  • Credit those who made it happen with encouragement and rewards

One of the deepest human needs is the need to be appreciated. So, lead by example. Give credit where credit is due.

When in doubt, give credit to your team—and especially your customers—even when there is some doubt regarding how much credit they deserve.

Oh, and one more thing . . . as for the third QB on the 2016 L.A. Rams roster? That was Nick Foles, Super Bowl MVP for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Yet another reminder that when teams under-perform, there is a reason the coach gets fired first.