When Talent Defeats
Superstars aren’t the answer they’re the problem. Isn’t it thrilling when high performers join your organization? Finally, someone can bring home the bacon like no one else. Wrong!
Superstars who believe they save the day are selfish hogs. Organizations don’t need swine they need strong teams that deliver results together. Individual contributors – superstars – might help for the short-term but eventually they cripple organizations and destroy morale.
Real high potentials work well with others; they don’t work in isolation.
Team players are better than individual contributors.
- Develop organizational capacity.
- Share the spotlight.
- Sacrifice for the team.
- Build morale.
- Have humble spirits.
Highly talented individuals who work well with others produce results and lift organizations.
Control yourself the next time you interview a super star. Ask, “How well have they played with others?” Perhaps the real job interview should be with team-mates. How well did they work with others?
- Disagree agreeably?
- Speak honestly?
- Work behind the scenes?
- Contribute to the success of others?
It’s easy to find yourself starry-eyed with talented super stars and high potentials. Beware, you need more than talent; you need talented team players.
How do you spot highly talented team players?
What can leaders do to enhance team work?
I couldn’t agree with you more this morning, Dan. Throughout my adventures, preferring high potential and great personality over “well established” has done me no wrong. On the flip side, sometimes you do get lucky with exceptional talent…rare, but sometimes.
Have a wonderful day 🙂
Thank you Ryan.
It took me awhile to learn this lesson as a leader. I used to think, man this person is going to make a difference. Now I’ve learned that people who work with others are the ones that make the biggest difference over the long haul.
I do agree the dark side of high performers. They create environment of competition on one side, and un-comfort on the other. High performer in individual capacity also creates space from non performer. But high performer in team creates more effective performance. I think highly talented team players are those who lift and encourage others to perform better. They should believe in team players more than themselves. They should create trust among team players in such a way that team makes committed effort. Even in case, organization recognizes star performer, he or she should give this credit to the team member. It means, when individual is more concerned about credit, it actually create dissonance and dis balance rather than creating competitive environment. Therefore, talent that emerge from team should be valued more than individual talent alone.
Thank yo Ajay.
I take this nugget from your comment…”They should create trust” … Powerful. High performers who work well with others create trust and trust helps everyone perform better. Bingo!
I think the best thing leaders can do for their team is… To LEAD! Besides finding quality talent; leaders need to build team structure that will support each member of the team.
Sometimes the best recruits are not the most talented; if they are the most team-oriented. Team creates synergy that individuals alone cannot match.
Thank you David.
“Sometimes the best recruits aren’t the most talented.” KaChing!
That means we might do well to look on the fringes or our organization to find dormant high performers who understand team play.
When employers hire for talent they hire successful employees and superstars become less important. It is better to have all successful employees and no superstars than to have many under performers and a few superstars.
Thank you Robert.
It takes some courage to believe a superstar may be a hindrance and not a help.
Hi Dan, since I have no bosses, except my wife, it is quite easy.
What is hard is convincing managers that hiring successful employees is easy and it does not requiring bribing superstars to change teams.
Great point…the bright shine of a superstar entices.
Dear Dan, this can be a sensitive area: back to the geese that lay the golden eggs and how they enable and support each other.
Team-players can often be better identified by observation over a longer-period and in multiple situations: what are the individual’s instincts: catch them off-guard (more than once).
But be careful too: look at how others “lose” when a “super-star” gets the best “fields to farm” [the richest metaphorical soil (e.g. clients), the best metaphorical farming equipment (e.g. services to sell), etc]. And consider if you’ve created a self-fulfilling prophecy by hiring someone as good as someone (or some ones) you already had and then allocating the new “superstar” all the best “fields to farm”.
Whether this goes as far as the argument in the now-old(ish) movie “Trading Places” I’ll leave you to judge; but ask yourself three Professional-Services-Firm-relevant questions: “If you gave a stony field to Farmer A; and a rich already-ploughed field to farmer B; and both farmers are equally skilled and talented; who will deliver you the best crop? who will leave your lands and seek a new Lord? and who will stay: perhaps demonstrating greater loyalty to you than to themselves?”.
P.S. The England Football (“Soccer”) team has been used as an example of what you describe for some years: http://www.metro.co.uk/sport/football/76826-mp-slams-england-prima-donnas-in-house-of-commons !
Thank you Ben.
YOu drive home the point that environment matters very powerfully.
Thanks for extending the conversation.
To further the futbol reference, lately, some of the most successful teams have had what has been termed in Spanish as a pivote or progenitor (Shane Thomas, Sliderulepass)…who is not a flashy superstar and not the fastest or the hardest shooting. What you can see in the Spanish word, is a person who is pivotal, who can see the individual player making his move and at the same time, see the whole field, the ebb and flow, and still maintains the vision. This is the person is ‘with’ you, who enhances the flow and gets out of the way so others can do what they do. The progenitor knows it is not about him, it’s about the team. (How’s that for an oblique side car?)
I love this idea. It reminds me of the old Boston Celtics basketball team…they were famous for having a fabulous 6th man who came in off the bench… Not always the best player but a player that took them to new levels.
This is all certainly true, Dan. It is truly an organizational challenge to find someone who blends that “humble spirit” with the added benefit of enough determination to know exactly how far to push a point that may be one of dissension without alienating.
Re: how to find these people — I really think track records speak for themselves; if the person has left a trail of short-lived responsibilities in their wake, or if enough people say, “oh, HIM or oh HER” when the name is brought up, caution is warranted (in my opinion).
Thank you Paula.
YOu made me think about humility NOT being weakness or lack of determination. Thanks.
Plus, you suggest the issue of tracking individual performance when team play is emphasized. What happens when a great team player leaves an organization and starts writing their resume’?
I guess hang up my cape and park the Batmobile! I love this thought. If there is a “superhero”, their objective should not be to make themselves shine, but to help others shine.
Thank you Joshua.
I believe your comment applies to leaders MOST of all. Holy kick in the pants Batman!! You mean we need the team!!
Very true and something I wish I’d known five years ago. I hired someone that I thought would be a superstar. She did not play well with others and quickly alienated the people that she needed to rely on in order to be successful. The reality is that, no matter how good someone is, if they can’t play nice with others, everyone suffers. I ended up replacing her with someone with less star appeal but who had the ability and the desire to build the relationships necessary to be successful. Less shine, but much better results.
Thank you Laurie.
I feel your pain.
Love the line… Less shine but much better results.
Yeah, but Dan, if you ever go to any country fair (and some state fairs), isn’t it the world’s biggest swine that gets all of the money at that side show? Course, that side show gets out of Dodge each week and doesn’t sustain, but short term, lots of coin. 😉
How to spot the real talent and enhance a team? Wonder if listening (when interviewing) to the choice of pronouns would help? How much is “I” and how much is “we”. In a job interview, that is a dance. In referencing past performance success, 3:1 we:I might be a good ratio, or should it be higher? Might reverse that ratio when responding to questions about what did ‘you’ learn in xyz negative experience.
If not interviewing, but trolling for crew members to chart a new adventure, again, how quickly does s/he suggest or ask about a team approach to solve xyz challenge? Does s/he genuinely jump in and grab an oar? As the leader, do you know the strengths and areas to develop of each of your crew so that you can identify what to compliment their skills with? Do you have that discussion individually on a regular basis? And do they tell you what they think your strengths and areas to build are as well? If not, you still have work to do before trying to map out the new world.
Thank you Doc.
I always smile and often laugh when I read your contributions. I guess the biggest pig wins! 🙂
Frankly, I personally struggle with the “we” vs. “me” tension. I have an ego that won’t quit. Heck, I’m proud that I can see my pride… 🙂
It took me too long to understand the power of building a team…until I saw the power of teams I was looking for superstars…
A leader who thinks they are a superstar may actually keep looking for other superstars…one problem leads to another.
I’ve see many people who are reluctant to grab an oar …they want the helm… I’m much more alert to the ideas you propose… great stuff!
I am a basketball fan and I have seen this played out. When I was in junior high (small Christian school in Illinois), a surprising team won the high school championship. They had 7 or 8 guys on the team. Only five were good. Each of those five guys were in incredible shape and played together as a team. With virtually no subs who played significant minutes, they full-court pressed the entire game! They were fun to watch.
Playing intermural ball in college, one year we had a bunch of guys want to play. Unfortunately, everybody wanted to be a scorer. We were the most talented team and the deepest team, but we came in third (out of four teams) because people could not embrace their roles and do what best helped the team.
In basketball, and in life, I would much rather have team players who embraced their roles than a superstar who focuses on himself.
Thank you Jacob.
Wow! Great stories. Great teams go further than individual superstars.
Great article, and I think we should all play close attention to the fine but distinct line between the superstar and team player. In order to build a successful unit in business, sports, and even within families, someone has to wear the label as “superstar”. Certainly, I could have used more embracing terms likes “game changer”, “decision maker”, “floor general” or “go-to-person”, but all of them equate to “super star”. Every organization regardless of how fluid or rigid their leadership chart, needs one person that is willing to take the last shot, make the tough calls, and risk failure to produce success. Superstars seem to be born with these rare ingrediants and although they can usually carry as much hubris and diva-like tendencies along with their ability to make the decisive plays, I would not be too quick to eliminate a superstar from my team. Decisions can be deliberated by teams of people but it usually takes one decisive person to initiate the change.
Team players are a necessity, but during pressure-filled situations, a superstar has the potential to carry your organization to victory. We seem to be building a concept of leadership where everything evolves around a team-oriented idea. We must be careful to not forget that historically , movements began and ended on the shoulders of individuals ranging from Jesus Christ to Napoleon to Churchill, Ghandi, Mandela, and King.
Thank you Danielle.
Your comment reminds me of “As One” a book about models of leadership. Your point aligns well with their research. Team-leadership isn’t always effective or appropriate – A crisis situation calls for one leader to make quick decisions to direct other team members.
Ok Dan. I love this post! It’s so true.
Thank you Diana.
Identifying a good team player is pretty easy as they are always doing what they should and helping others to achieve their best. Their ultimate desire is to help the team reach their goal.
Leader can help enhance team work, by leading by example. I do not ask anyone of my team members to something that I would do or have not done.
I posted today about becoming a Supermanager a short book tht addresses these same topics.
Thank you Tina.
Always a pleasure reading your comments.
Thank you Dan, I enjoy reading your blog with either my morning coffee or my while I eat my lunch. You have such great insight and information that I love drinking up. Have a great evening.
Maybe I just like Superman and may be biased… so what’s wrong with a superstar? I think talented people might be getting a bad rap in this conversation. Great talent doesn’t naturally exclude great team skills. Actually, I’ve found that the more talented someone is, the more confidence they have to work with people in an authentic, honest, trust-worthy way; and the more humble they are. They don’t need to prove that they’re great. Couldn’t it be that those whose egos need to be gratified because they are not so great, need to back-stab, steal, and work in isolation? Actually, the more I think of it, allowing one individual in an organization to shine above and beyond the whole is also a systemic problem. Teamwork is also deeply integrated into the culture and the structure of the organization. I think leaders should be thinking not only how to recruit great players, but how to create environments that will minimize competition, and glory-seeking behaviour.
Thank you Edutechor.
“Great Talent Doesn’t Naturally Exclude Great Team Skills” … KaChing!!
I think ego is a key component of this conversation. Thanks for adding it here.
Hello edutechor, the problem is not superstars but rather the hiring of Other Employer’s SuperStars (OESS). Hiring managers need to know how to hire their own top performers, i.e., superstars, so that they do not need to bribe OESS to jump ship. Be aware that OESS can become management headaches and morale killers. My advice, hire your own superstars, it is easier than you think.
Talent never defeats, but ego sure does. My definition of a superstar is “A” talent who understands the value of being a team player. The two are positions are not mutually exclusive and should not be cast as such. It’s a leader’s job to find, attract, develop, and retain the best talent possible. It’s also a leader’s job to influence team members to play nicely with one another. It’s simply a myth that tier-one talent is disruptive in a negative way. If talent has run amok, then it’s only because leadership has failed.
Thank you Mike.
If we define a superstar the way you define them, you are absolutely correct. Sadly, some organizations leave off the team-player component.
Hi Dan, I think you are right. Most of the Superstars I got known aren’t good teamplayers. You should keep them in the team only as long as necessary to bring them to the next level of career. Most of the superstars have talent to become highest leaders of companies (e.g. CEO, …). And in those positions they often will be able to benefit their companies in much better way than working in teams. They will think ahead and push the organization to improved results. Regards from Germany, Wolfgang.