The Blessing and Curse of Superstar Employees

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Magic happens when talent, determination, integrity, relationship building, innovation and team player are perfectly blended into one individual. What emerges is a powerhouse employee that routinely shatters performance benchmarks with ease. Perhaps you were once one of these employees before striking out to build your own company and chase your own dreams. 

Superstars emerge in business, sales, sports, medicine, education, science, politics, religion, and in all aspects of work and life. They break records; they inspire and mentor others; they set new standards; they create and maintain a sense of urgency. More than anything, it’s fun—even a privilege—to work on the same team as a superstar. That is, as long as the superstar is a team player and doesn’t fall victim to self-perceived delusions of royalty and privilege. That’s when a superstar performer goes from a blessing to a curse.

Here are some no-compromise thoughts on leading and managing superstar employees:


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  • One culture. One set of rules: Double standards wreck company cultures. They establish two classes; one with privileged favorites and another that is expected to play by the rules. It’s a divisive, adversarial and destructive culture to work in and a nightmare to lead. A culture built on a foundation of fairness, equality and trust will out-perform, out-sell and out-grow a double standard culture with ease because everyone is pushing and pulling in the same direction. Double standard cultures feed indifference, entitlement and internal fighting. Fact: leaders allow double standards to infect their companies.
  • Always the many, not the one: Building a company around a superstar employee is inherently dangerous and comes with no guarantee of success. Look at any sports franchise that gets locked into a multi-million dollar contract for one superstar player. They may get a few good years out of the player, but at what cost to the rest of the team? It’s the rest of the team that make the superstar look great. No-compromise leaders focus on building the team, not the superstar. The superstar is paid and expected to deliver results, but it’s always about the team. When it’s all about the superstar, the entire company suffers.
  • Engagement is vital: Superstars are incredible resources for knowledge and expertise, but when left alone to “do their thing,” they run amuck. When pampered and spoiled, they expect and ask for even more. Superstars perform best and contribute to team performance when engaged in company planning, training, innovation and mentoring. Yes, even superstars need attention and appreciation. Yes, even superstars need regular formal performance reviews. Let them run on autopilot for too long and they drift away from the company culture and vision.
  • Build your bench: Superstars are like shiny things. They attract attention. Everyone wants one. But superstars can get expensive and become a distraction. No-compromise leaders focus on, and are committed to, building the company’s bench of talent. They seek out employees with the potential to become “A” players. They have internal training programs to help employees achieve their full potential. And when a superstar emerges, they ensure that everyone keeps playing from the same playbook. The superstar is today’s success, but the bench of talent represents the company’s future.
  • Hostage is a choice: A superstar performer that plays the “give me more or I’ll leave” game, or the “If I have to do that I’ll leave” game, has already separated from your company culture. Their loyalty is to themselves and comes at the expense of everyone else. Leaders that get sucked into these games never win back the passion, loyalty or trust of the superstar. When demands for special treatment start to exceed “acceptable” and pose a potential compromise to the financial and cultural wellbeing of the company, it’s time to pull the superstar back to reality or cut them loose.
  • Nothing lasts forever: In business, people come and go. Superstars will come and go. Superstars that believe in we/us/team/company are valuable long-term employees. When their thinking and behavior shifts to I/me/mine, they become a liability that is too costly to retain. The problem is that superstars rarely exit a company quietly and almost always leave conflict and drama in their wake. That’s why it’s so important to keep superstars engaged and focused. But eventually, the superstar will move on.  As a leader, it’s your job to control the size and duration of their wake.