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The LeBrons and the Sixth Men – How to Manage Successful Teams

October 1, 2019

It has already been widely discussed how companies should approach different generations in order to retain and promote talent, but what most managers forget is that each of their team members has specific characteristics and goals, adopting the fallacy “to see the forest for the trees.”

Kim Scott, in the book Radical Candor, states there are two types of collaborators: Superstars and Rock Stars. To these two types, I suggest adding another one: the Shooting Stars. In the next few paragraphs, I’ll look at each one of them, focusing on the way we encourage them.

1. Superstars

We all admire those people who regularly top the charts and are always in the spotlight, such as a salesman who managed to beat all the sales records of the year. We all like to have LeBron on our team, and this fills us with indomitable pride, making us believe that our plan is right. They do not focus on problems but on solutions; they always want to be the best and every challenge is turned into a goal.

Is everything perfect? Certainly not. We are not always able to live up to the expectations of our Superstars for one of two reasons: demotivation or dismissal.

How do we retain these talented people on our team?

  • Always give them a new challenge: Superstars are driven by new goals and love being in the spotlight for achieving them.
  • Encourage learning: For Superstars, “stagnation is death” and so they like to feel that they are always learning something new.
  • Ask them for help: They love sharing good practice with peers, and when they are identified as examples or role models, receptivity is far superior.

2. Rock Stars

As a rule of thumb, the right hands of a manager are the Rock Star’s—experienced employees, who have gone through various stages of the company and have always made themselves available to help. They like to stay under the radar and aren’t exactly overachievers. But don’t we all dream about winning the MVP award? Actually, NO. These co-workers may work to live, but they do not live to work. Their job is just one of many things they do in life and is not their first priority.

From Rock Stars, we can expect commitment, trust in our decisions as leaders, and unconditional support to all colleagues. Without ambitions to advance, these team members focus on boosting the success of their co-workers more than their own.

How can we prevent them from becoming unmotivated?

  • Reward their commitment: Better wages, extra days off, or waivers for family activities are ways to show just how important they are to the company.
  • Present new challenges: This does not necessarily mean a promotion.
  • Run a marathon, not a sprint: Rock Stars like to feel that the company thinks of them as a long-term asset, and that their leaders think of them as team members, not numbers.

3. Shooting Stars

Unfortunately, miscasting can happen, and we may find ourselves with an employee who cannot adapt to the company culture or who simply refuses to develop certain skills. This may lead to separation between the company and employee.

When we terminate the relationship for these reasons, we establish an environment that does not tolerate mediocrity. A collaborator of this type is like a fungus in the garden: it quickly spreads to other plants because of its toxicity, affecting the team’s state of mind.

How can we prevent employees from becoming Shooting Stars?

  • Give effective feedback: We must constantly foster an environment for growth by giving timely feedback with opportunities to improve. Explain what they can do better, why they should do it, and especially how to do it.
  • Define expectations: With transparency, we shall explain what we intend from a certain function and what will be expected at the end of a certain period. Defining a joint-action plan should be a priority for the manager.
  • Schedule one-on-one meetings: Talking individually with a seemingly unmotivated employee can prevent hasty decision making about his or her future in the company. In many situations, these are personal issues and therefore tend to be temporary and can be resolved with the right approach.

One of our biggest mistakes is to reserve all praise and recognition for Superstars while expecting all other employees to rise to that same level of success and ambition. Remember, not all employees are motivated to be the best, so employers must cater to other motivational drivers as well.

Another aspect that we disregard is showcasing the importance of Rock Stars in an organization. Since they are more low profile and do consistent work in terms of performance, we do not congratulate them as they deserve. Have you ever thought about how difficult it is to maintain consistency? Companies need these elements that guarantee us constant support in tasks that many Superstars consider “boring” and a waste of time.

With Shooting Stars, we are also shaky, giving countless opportunities to those who will not adapt to the demands of the job; we postpone uncomfortable conversations and thereby tolerate mediocrity.

To achieve a thriving, harmonious workplace, we need to find the balance between Superstars and Rock Stars; we should not judge their goals or level of ambition, but rather embrace them by tailoring our motivational tactics to what they value most. Having a strategic vision, preventing Shooting Stars, and acting boldly if/when they arise, will foster healthy team spirit and a strong culture. Remember that a current Superstar can become a Rockstar in the future, and vice versa.

As a leader, do not treat your employees as you would like to be treated, but rather as they would like to be.