The Challenge of (Not) Seeking Credit

Ross Chapman

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

I started rereading Good to Great by Jim Collins. One of the things I want to continue developing is my understanding of what makes organizations great, whether that’s a business, educational institution, church, or non-profit organization. This is one of those books you may want to read more than once.

One chapter has left an indelible impression on me. Again. When I reread it, I remembered the fascination and surprise that hit me the first time I read Collins’ interesting research on what kind of leadership was characteristic of “great” organizations. It came down to two things: personal humility and professional will.

Collins’ chapter on this kind of leadership begins with a quote from President Harry S. Truman.

Truman says, “You can accomplish anything in life, provided you do not mind who gets the credit.”

Read that again and ruminate on it.

What wrecks me is that last clause. In the workplace, credit gets misplaced or stolen even regularly.  Steve Jobs was notorious for this.  Maybe you add something to a meeting, and then 20 minutes later someone with more credibility or authority says the same thing with different words and everyone thinks it's amazing. 

It is hard to let go of the credit that you deserve.  It's hard to point to others' success when they do not point to yours.

Beyond being unfair, it's hard because that is often what drives us.  We want to be seen as smart or accomplished. We want to advance in our careers for greater security, and we cannot do that if we do not get credit for our work. 

So we must ask ourselves, "Am I really doing this work because God has asked me to be faithful to it?  Am I doing the work to further the mission of the organization or cause I am part of?  Or am I working hard so I can get recognized? So I can receive the credit for the work I’m doing? Is it about getting a promotion? Is it about expanding my leadership?"

Maybe my motivation is more often about proving myself. Proving to myself that I can do it. Proving to my boss that I have what it takes. Or proving to my family and mentors that their investment in me was worth it.

I think it is actually worse when I subconsciously try to prove myself to God. It’s the thinking that if I get “qualified” (= proving myself) enough, God will use me in “bigger” ways, so I have to make sure I get credit for whatever work I am doing.

I can get caught up in this kind of thinking. And it is my guess that you can, too. Truman’s quote struck a cord deep inside of me that hadn’t been played recently. And it needed to be played badly.

You and I have nothing to prove to God. He is our Father. Children should not feel a constant need to prove themselves to their fathers; how much more so should we not feel that need or burden with our Heavenly, perfect Father!

Knowing we do not need to prove ourselves to God is a great comfort! It should relieve us of the feeling of inadequacy and the striving to show ourselves worthy and capable.

Proverbs 25:6 says, “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among great men.” Jesus Christ has claimed that place for us. In Him, we have the highest standing. We are counted as God’s children through Jesus Christ, His Son, and so we have no need to exalt ourselves in the King’s presence or anyone else's presence.

Let us remember God used all kinds of people throughout Scripture, let us rest in the reality that God knows where credit should be given, even when others do not.  Then, we can accomplish what God has set for us to accomplish (Eph. 2:10).

(Initially published on Ross’s blog HERE.)


Ross Chapman

Ross Chapman was named CEO of Denver Institute for Faith & Work in August 2022. Before working at Denver Institute he served as the President and Executive Director at For Evansville, a movement of people who are actively working toward the good of the Greater Evansville region. Ross has earned his doctorate of ministry in faith, work, economics and vocation at Fuller Theological Seminary.