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5 Reasons Women Leaders Need to Give Themselves More Credit

5 Reasons Women Leaders Need to Give Themselves More Credit


“For too many women, the hardest part of being successful might be taking credit for the work that they do, especially when they work in groups.” – Kay Steiger, The Atlantic.

We’re becoming mind numbingly familiar with study after study that highlights two facts about women in business:

  1. Companies with more women in leadership do better
  2. Women (in nearly every scenario) give themselves and receive less credit for the their achievements than men do

Every woman leader I know (and even those I don’t know, but have read about), lament that they are not given the credit they are due. Some accept it. Some write to me and ask how they can change it.

Women must know that giving themselves credit and receiving praise for their achievements and the achievements of their team is not a sign of hubris. In fact, they should give themselves credit more frequently, as there are considerable benefits to themselves, their teams, and their companies when they are more intentional in giving themselves credit.

Why must you give yourself more credit?  Here are five reasons.

1. You need to hear it.

It’s important to articulate it for yourself. When you step out from fear and limiting beliefs that say you cannot credit yourself for your accomplishments, you will gain confidence – the confidence you need to innovate and lead.  The first person who needs to become more comfortable with your achievements is YOU.

As Selena Rezvani, author of The Next Generation of Women Leaders says so well:

“Study after study shows that women hesitate to self-promote even though doing so is a critical path to leadership. I have to wonder, just who are we trying to please when we hold back? And is anyone really being helped when we silence ourselves?”

2. Your team needs to hear it; both women and men.

This was brought home to me recently. My mentor is an amazingly accomplished African American woman who has led a $1B company and served as president of several other companies. She has accomplished what few women have.  She serves on public company boards and recently joined the advisory board of an amazing nonprofit. The announcement included her bio, which simply said she had 30 years of experience in her field.

I called her and asked why she hadn’t included more details? I told her she needs to share her story, because other women will be inspired. There are so few women who have achieved what she has and her life speaks to what is possible. My mentor agreed and said had been in a hurry and will ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Digital marketing expert Maggie Fox said it best when she implored, “I don’t care how distasteful you find it….Women who want to “change the ratio” but don’t self-promote are letting all of us down.”

3. You will affirm balance.

Many women intuitively embrace the idea that good leadership includes humility.  But they don’t realize that taking little or no credit is NOT balanced. Researchers at the University of Chicago and MIT produced a “humility-hubris index” to prove the point:

“The index is designed to measure the amount of hubris and humility packed into any individual. To get a high score on the hubris-humility index, which is desirable, it is essential to have large quotients of both hubris and humility. If an individual has an abundance of one quality, but a shortage of the other, then he or she gets a low score. A lot of hubris cannot compensate for a lack of humility, and vice versa. In short, you need hubris and humility if you are to be a first-rate thinker….”

Personally, this balance has been the hardest part of learning to give myself credit. I am a wholehearted believer in Christianity and my career and life are built on this foundation. Much has been written about humility and pride in the Scriptures I cherish.

Yet, as I look objectively at all of the Christian leaders I admire, from the late Mother Teresa to Dr. Tim Keller, I realize they have not shied away from telling their stories and giving specifics about the results of their work. They have quantified it, in fact.


I believe it’s because their stories (and yours) are true and powerful, and it gives those interested important details as they assess whether to follow them or invest in their work. These leaders have provided details that support their remarkable goals and purpose – those elements on which their lives and careers were founded.

4. You will be following the best practices of businesses, nonprofits, and other leaders.

Every business, nonprofit, or enterprise of any kind earns credibility by sharing key metrics. When I was a kid, every McDonald’s had a sign that said “over 1 billion served.” You establish and extend your credibility when you share your accomplishments. Creative artists take credit for writing songs, films, and books.  Leadership experts like John Maxwell share that he is privileged that millions have benefitted from his ideas.

It’s essential that others know of your contributions. For example, why should you listen to me about leadership? I would say it’s because I’ve learned many lessons from successes and failure, having been a leader within organizations where I was promoted multiple times. I’ve made many observations as an entrepreneur who grew a company from zero to $200m, as an investor in entrepreneurs and start-ups, as a CEO of a new company, and as board member of enterprises and public companies with a combined value of $10 Billion.

Did that sound like I was bragging? I hope not. I’m simply stating that I have a lot of ‘been there and done that’ experience to share that I believe will be valuable to you. It’s better to share it than keep it all to myself. And, as with any leader, a good part of the advice I offer stems from setbacks, challenges, and failures!

5. Your customers, investors, partners, influencers want to know.

Key stakeholders want to know who is leading, and there should be no ambiguity. This does not mean you don’t share credit with others. I’ve long advised new leaders that when they have strong performers, they should shine a light on them for a number of reasons – including that it shows they are good at recruiting and cultivating talent!  But it doesn’t mean you omit or hide your contributions. Trust me, your team will appreciate it.

For years when I would speak about my work and accomplishments, I would use the term “we” exclusively. The only time I would speak of my accomplishments was during a private annual review with senior management.  I realized that I was doing myself and my team a disservice because no one really knew what “we” meant. I was masking not only my own contributions, but those of specific team members. There is a way to acknowledge each member of a team and even single out high performers.

You are not “taking” credit from anyone – you are giving yourself credit and giving others credit too.

I’m not suggesting that you talk only of yourself incessantly – that may be a form of narcissism. I’m saying that if you don’t acknowledge to yourself and others your contributions and achievements, it will eventually diminish you, and hold you and your team back. If you truly care about the balance between hubris and humility, that is good evidence that you will stay in balance.

Remember, the vast majority of people want to be led. People ARE looking to leaders – and that includes you.  Think about the leaders you admire in business, public service, politics, faith communities, authors, speakers, inventors, etc. – every one of them must share some of their achievements, results, and successes in order to gain the credibility, authority, and following they have.

Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead offers practical ways for women to strategically tout their accomplishments.

Now go on and give yourself (and others) credit; it’s what good leaders do.

This post originally appeared on Pocket Mentor.


Hear Caren’s 2015 interview with Sandi Klein here.

Caren Merrick
Caren Merrick

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