There an old adage you’ve heard before that goes, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
Lots of people attribute this to Harry Truman. Others attribute it to Ronald Reagan. Still others, Albert Einstein. Like many aphorisms, the real answer is likely “none of the above.” Research has shown that the earliest known use of the phrase was by a Jesuit Priest in the 1800s.
So it is that the history of the phrase proves its own truth. We can accomplish a lot by living out this creed, so long as we’re not hung up on who created it.
But in our world today, two widely embraced opposing values make living out this creed extremely challenging. Like the creed itself, the two opposing values apply in all endeavors of life (politics, business, church/non-profit, the arts) as well.
a) “It it essential for me (or my political friends, business associates, my church/non-profit, my art) to get all credit for everything we do. Further, if we do not get all credit, then we have failed, even if we achieve a stated goal in the process.”
b) “It is essential for my adversaries (political rivals, business competitors, rival churches/non-profits, fellow artists) to NOT get any credit for any successes. Even a success that is mutually beneficial to both of us.”
These two widely held beliefs incubate inside every facet of life. Unchecked, they evolve from “winner take all,” and into “make the other guy lose.”
We see it among the political parties in our nation. There is often so much desire to see “the other side” lose, that we fail to create, or even conceive of, “win-win” solutions.
We see it among nation-states. It appears Israel and Hamas both want peace, so long as the other side doesn’t appear to get any credit for it. (Please don’t start a flame war about this last sentence. If you do, whichever side you are defending, you only prove its truth…)
We see it in business. Even though it was a brilliant and shrewd business move, the world is still buzzing that Elon Musk recently gave away all his patents for free. In the eyes of many, it was deeply foolish.
Sadly, all this really means is that far too often we fail to achieve lasting peace, real change, or mutually beneficial solutions. The fears of “losing,” irrelevancy, appearing weak, and countless other fears, bind us into following the “winner takes all credit” creed instead.
It’s said that “politics is the art of the possible.” It’s also true, like it or not, that there is a political dimension to every facet of professional and personal life. The word “politics” is not a dirty word, except as we make it so.
But the final and important truth is that the “not caring who gets the credit” expression doesn’t really go far enough. Because it’s never about just “not caring.”
It’s about caring enough to lead in an entirely different way.
“Not caring who gets the credit” takes a servant’s heart.(1) It takes people who look at the long term, and hunger more for society to change, than for their personal legacy to be remembered. (Although paradoxically, the best way to be remembered is to work toward things that help society change for the better!)
“Not caring who gets the credit” means knowing when to lead, and when to follow. It means learning how to praise others, unconditionally. And it means, if you are a leader, quietly silencing those who would sabotage that praise. It means teaching others to offer that praise too, so that trust levels grow. It means admitting that, as smart as you are, sometimes you need collaborators, mentors, and coworkers to fill in the things you can’t think or do.
Truman…Reagan…all of them were right. In so many areas of modern life, we’d do to live this creed.
But it’s not about “not caring.”
It’s about caring deeply in a very different way.
(1) Remember: A Jesuit Priest likely thought this up in the first place!