09/11/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Upstaging of Hillary Clinton: How to React When a Colleague Steals Your Limelight

For months, the state department has been working to secure the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, two journalists who were imprisoned in North Korea. Undoubtedly, there were numerous strategy sessions, countless hours exploring all options, hand holding of members of congress and the White House, and extremely delicate negotiations with the North Koreans. This had been one of Hillary Clinton's top priorities, and she stewarded the situation to a successful conclusion.


And then, in the blink of an eye, former President Bill Clinton pulls out his dusty superman cape, and swoops in to steal all the glory. Triumphantly, Bill is lauded in the media as a true American hero. And Hillary? The only question the press seemed to be interested in was, "Aren't you pissed?"

The impact on Bill and Hillary's relationship (one that already would make for the world's most interesting and/or annoying reality show!) is impossible to predict. We are talking about a Secretary of State and a President, a wife and a husband (a philanthropist and a philanderer). But in any profession, at some point you will undoubtedly encounter a similar situation -- you put in the blood, sweat and tears, and someone else takes all the credit for your success.

What should you do?

Actually, my response has always been to do nothing, and this approach has worked incredibly well for me. Nothing?! Sure, it's tough to just suck it up and watch as someone steals your well earned thunder. But you have to keep two things in mind:

1) Every knows who actually did the work. As the person who was duped, it feels like you are alone in your knowledge of what happened. You want to scream to the world, "Wow, did you see what that blowhard just did to me!" But in reality, everyone who matters already knows who did the work (or will quickly find out through normal course of business). If you assume the facts will eventually sort themselves out, you end up looking like a great team player, and the predator looks like an unethical jerk. Truth bubbles up.

2) There may be no faster way of building up relationship equity. When I was in my mid-twenties, I worked for a large, multinational company in the finance department. On a whim, I conducted some analysis of profitability by contract, and found some startling results. Proudly, I presented this analysis to my boss (he was 15 years my senior), who promptly dressed them up as his own work, and the initiative eventually made it all the way to the General Motors board of Directors (our parent company), resulting in sweeping changes throughout our company. The project was a huge success.

At first, I felt as though I had been screwed. But over the next few months, several senior execs confided that they knew all along it had been my work (evidently my manager had previously proven his illiteracy with math...) And my boss, who certainly had some knowing sense of guilt, became forever indebted to me for playing along. Top assignments, salary and bonus increases, executive exposure, all came my way from that point on. In the end, it was a quid pro quo that worked entirely in my favor.

No matter what she says, I am sure Hillary is pissed. I won't begin to give her advice. But when it happens to you -- when a colleague takes credit for your hard work, just sit back and relax. You will win in the end.

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