The Sting of a Rebel Win

Wisdom from psychologist and resilience expert Maria Sirois.

Wisdom from psychologist and resilience expert Maria Sirois.

One of the most popular questions Carmen Medina and I get asked during our Rebels at Work talks is, “What happens when your boss takes your idea and doesn’t give you credit for it?”

Our response: When someone takes your idea that’s a Rebel Win. It means your good idea is moving forward.

Yet we should probably spend more time acknowledging the disappointment and sting that can come when we don’t get credit for our ideas, and suggest some ways to bounce back and not become all angry and kind of pissy,

Like what started happening to me this morning when five friends forwarded an email from Harvard Business Review announcing “The Big Idea from HBR: Rebel Talent.”

Are you kidding me — how are you not in the center of this? This should be by YOU!!!!
What the what?? Seems like you should be leading this webinar

The email was from the editor of Harvard Business Review, with whom Carmen and I met exactly three years ago to pitch him on the idea of publishing our Rebels at Work book. He loved the idea, shared his personal experiences being a lifelong Rebel at Work, and forwarded our manuscript on to the acquisitions editor, who rejected it.

So here’s the Rebel Win: he’s moving the Rebels idea forward, with all the credibility that Harvard brings to stodgy leaders whose organizations can benefit so much from helping their rebel thinkers thrive.

And here’s the Rebel Sting: he’s never acknowledged any of our ideas or work.

What’s a Rebel to do?

I admit I did stew for an hour this morning, and then used these Rebel Practices to break out of my mental Crazytown. Maybe some of these practices will help you next time someone takes credit for your idea.

1. Name the emotion: when you’re angry, name the feeling out loud. This diminishes the power of the emotion over us and let’s us think more clearly and logically. This two-minute video from psychologist Paul Furey, “How To Ruin a Really Good Idea,” is especially helpful.

2. Dodge thinking traps: ask these quick questions from Karen Reivich, author of The Resiliency Factor, to avoid spiraling into negative thinking traps that are rarely accurate or helpful.

  • What is a more accurate way of seeing this?
  • What other outcome is possible?
  • What might be one other possible explanation?

When I asked myself these questions I saw the situation differently: the Harvard attention on Rebel Talent is a potentially huge boost for rebels, and the purpose of Rebels at Work is to help Rebels succeed, not get attention for our writing or ideas or book. Reframing provides clarity and creates positive energy.

I also considered that the editor had forgotten us and our meeting and sent him an email offering to write an HBR blog post with some of our new research.

3. Lean on your signature character strengths: the field of positive psychology has identified 24 universal character traits that all of us have, some much stronger than others. (You can take this free scientific assessment from the VIA Institute on Character to uncover your top strengths.)

When we use our top signature strengths we decrease stress and increase our wellbeing.

Three of my top strengths are honesty (speaking the truth and presenting oneself in a genuine way), creativity (thinking of novel and product ways to conceptualize and do things) and bravery (No shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty or pain; speaking up for what’s right even if there’s opposition.)

Today I’m thinking about how to better serve Rebels at Work (honesty, creativity, bravery), writing this post (honesty), and developing a new master class on resiliency (creativity). I’m in the flow, feeling good about my work despite a not-so-positive start to the day.

4. Avoid flirting with the Dark Side: This is one of Carmen’s favorite pieces of advice. Things get dark for rebels, she advises, when their only goal is to advance their own agenda. Your ideas are important, but more important than any single idea is the creation of an organizational ecosystem that is hospitable to honest reflection and change.

Permission to be human

One last bit of wisdom comes from Tal Ben-Shahar, one of the foremost experts in the field of positive psychology and author of Happier:

Give yourself permission to be human, accepting your positive and negative emotions. Repressing intense emotions actually intensifies them.

So if your boss takes your idea and you get no credit, let yourself be pissy and angry for a while. Go for a walk. Listen to music you love. Watch a good movie. Turn off the monkey mind.

Then consider your purpose and narrative as a Rebel.

Many of us are firestarters and idea igniters.

By the time the world is ablaze and buzzing about our idea seedlings, we are onto exploring what’s next.

Adelante, dear Rebels. The world needs us more now than ever before.


Making my life movie-worthy

The question posed to our creative Quest group: If you knew your life story would be based on choices next year, how would you live?

Well, first of all, can it be a movie vs. just a story? A movie sounds so much more interesting.

Lois, Sweetheart, it can be whatever you want. This is a creative exercise."

OK, then, this is what I'm going to do so that my life is "movie-worthy."

Growth tips

Growth tips

It's June 1 and the city garden behind my Providence, RI, office is bursting with new growth. What's fascinating about plants -- and organizations -- is that so much unexpected and counter-intuitive growth happens at the tips and edges of organisms.

New cellular structures -- and ways of working -- often happen by chance, emerging unexpectedly in the least likely places. 

The power of being heard

Why do I care so much about helping people speak up and be heard?

It didn’t start on this day, but all these years later this incident feeds my determination to help people speak truth to power.

The New York City hotel conference room was plush, with fifty rows of gold ballroom chairs with red velvet seats lined up carefully in two sections. At the head of the room stood a formidable business executive who had just published a book called “Power and Influence.” He didn’t need a microphone. He exuded confidence in the way he held himself, projected his voice and opinions, and “commanded” the room.

Men in dark business suits filled most of the seats. And then there was me, 23-years-old in my dorky blue suit with one of those ridiculous “female bow ties” that were so popular in the 1980s. I was eager to “be corporate” so that I could do the work that I loved, which was working for a Madison Avenue public affairs and crisis communications firm.

I convinced my boss to let me go to this event. So much – too much -- in the field was about tactics, and here was someone talking about how to affect the outcomes – influencing opinion and changing perceptions. It was an easy sell because my boss admired Mr. Power and Influence, who was the CEO of one of the largest public relations agencies in the world.

That's your question, miss?

When it came time for questions my arm shot up. There was so much that I was hungry to know. Mr. Power and Influence kept calling on the middle-aged white men. I kept my arm up. Finally he called on me, “Yes, Miss.”

I don’t remember what I asked. I just remember his response. Not the words, but the body language. First a sigh, then a smirk, then the condescending tone. As if my question and I were not worthy and he couldn’t believe that someone had been so ridiculous to ask him such a question. A few people coughed as he lectured me. Were they embarrassed for him or me?

Maya Angelou once said, ““I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I still remember how he made me feel, and it still makes me angry. When people are seeking to understand or contribute or help, they are worthy. Even if their question is unpolished. Earnestness deserves respect.

I’m just an admin

Flash forward 30 years and I am running a writing workshop for a Fortune 100 company, and people are in small breakout groups, individually writing in response to a prompt about healthcare.

“OK, would everyone now please read aloud what you wrote to the people in your break out groups,” I ask.

In one group a young, African-American woman says, “Oh, skip over me. I’m just and admin not a writer like you all.”  In her, I see my 23-year-old self.

”Taneesha, of course you don’t have to share.  But there are no right or wrong responses here and you bring a different and valuable perspective because you are an admin.”

Taneesha reads her story and people are stunned. While the professional communicators wrote from their heads about healthcare policy, Taneesha wrote from her gut about her healthcare experiences as a single mother. Her writing was breathtaking.

“Geez, Taneesha,” her colleagues say, “What are you doing as an admin? YOU should be a writer.”

The next day Taneesha came to the workshop wearing bolder lipstick, with her hair done up in a handsome bun. I may have been imagining it, but I think she stood taller, too.

She had been heard. And seen.

Oh, the power that gives us.