Can you handle your rockstar employee?
Foreword: This blog is part of a series A Leader’s Handbook to Navigating People in the Workplace. The aim of the series to explore the core needs and behaviours of some different personalities in the workforce and provide actionable leadership pointers to growing individuals into the best version of themselves. Much of the content is derived from the Enneagram, and placed into everyday language that can be understood and applied by managers and leaders with no prior knowledge of enneagram literature.
Often referred to as a “Type A” personality, such persons are often the bright sparks and rising stars in organisations. Love them or hate them, they are brilliant, dedicated and driven. In fact they can seem so successful at whatever they put their hand to, you’d hate their guts if it wasn’t for their confident charm and admirable motivation.
They are success-orientated, work hard, and are enthusiastic and even charismatic. Such qualities make these types of people the ‘Rockstars’ of the corporate world. You can recognize this type by their larger than life personality that fills a room. Everyone knows when the office Rockstar enters the building, as they exude a definitive strength and presence. It can be a presence of charm, tension or even stress. Regardless, if your Rockstar feels it, so will everyone else who comes into contact with them.
But in reality their contribution to a team (and an organization) can be a two-edged sword, and as people who work with and lead such bright stars – we need to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses in order to harness their immense energy and momentum to compliment the goals of our teams and organizations.
- Have many acquaintances, but few close friends
- Love to climb the ladder, and often end up in leadership
- Naturally gather followers
- Gifted networkers
- Great public speakers
- Avoid public failure. Great at covering over their own mistake and redirecting blame away from themselves.
- Live for accolades, awards and exonerations.
Understanding Your Rockstar Team Member/Boss
While their high capacity and motivation mean they get the job done, it is worth observing that often the Rockstar’s core motivation is to look successful – rather than actually be successful in a holistic sense.
While the productivity of the Rockstar appeals to managers, and their charisma appeals to their coworkers, their personal ambition can overtake their humanity and leave the team behind.
Unfortunately, this unhealthy mode of work ethic (#grind) has permeated into many business motivational resources and thought leadership. Put in a position of authority, Rockstars must overcome their compulsion to achieve results and redirect their energy to empower their staff. As team members, they can feel held back by the team or threatened by another high achiever in the team. While this threat evokes their strong competitive nature, the drive is to outshine another team member rather than work together to achieve the optimum outcome for the company.
By now, it should be evident to managers and leaders reading this that, while the energy and output of a Rockstar is valuable, proper leadership needs to be applied to Rockstar to ensure their contribution to the team is productive rather than destructive.
Left unchecked, their ambition can cause them to dominate, manipulate and burn relational and professional bridges just to get ahead of the pack. Despite how much time and effort they inject into their work, as egotists their impulse is to fundamentally act in their own interests – to gain the respect and approval of others.
Overcoming the Challenges:
The key to helping your Rockstar team members is understanding how their need to appear “successful” and vanity often prevents them from being truly self-aware. This inhibits them from truly understanding and accepting themselves beyond of the facades they present to others. These facades actually prop-up their ego, and prevents the honest confrontation of their failures necessary for personal growth and true success.
Guiding a Rockstar into honest acceptance and discovery of themselves is process that takes time and much soul searching, something that doesn’t come naturally to such individuals. They are master chameleons, and because of this it can be challenging to know if your Rockstar is really taking on feedback, or just compulsively agreeing with you. The only way to know you’re getting through to them is if they demonstrate consistent follow through (not just when they know you’re watching).
These types can be silver-tongued, and can spin a situation to their advantage with their charisma and persuasiveness. Thus it can be hard to confront them on genuine matters without feeling like the ‘bad cop’. The compulsion to save face is backed up by the desire to impress and be see in a good light. So persuasive manipulation and even outright lying about their own mistakes and blunders can be behavioral patters (often formed well before entering the workforce), and a good leader needs to recognize the duplicate nature as compulsion – not necessarily a malicious act. That doesn’t mean they get off the hook for lying just recognize that it’s likely a life-long habit.
Walking Toward Maturity
When the journey of self-discovery and acceptance has taken place, such individuals find themselves motivate to do remarkable good for humanity. Often this doesn’t happen until a major life failure or crisis which forces them to confront their addition to ego (e.g. bankruptcy, divorce, or major loss of some kind). Hopefully as a leader you can help them before they get to that point, but it’s likely that (if you have gained their trust) you may coach them though such a challenging season. Such large disruptions have a way of forcing Rockstars to finally stop and confront their inner demons.
They can emerge from such seasons to shift from serving their own appetite for approval, to really serving others as strong business leaders who become the inspiration of many. When the restless ambition undergoes the furnace of reflection on failure and discovery of deeper values, what can emerge is a highly motivated force for good. This transformation is made manifest when an individual goes from working like they are a one-person-team, to being a team member working cohesively with others towards a collective goal.
How you can help them:
- Encourage them to get in touch with their own personal motivation. Your Rockstar is very goal orientated, so they won’t hesitate to tell you what they are striving for (i.e a new yacht, more investment properties or Business Person of the year Award). However, they need help with determining which goals are really their own and which goals are built on vanity and “keeping up with the Jones’s”. Confronting this vanity will help your Rockstar to honestly explore what they truly value beyond the approval of others, and to re-orientate their goals accordingly to find true satisfaction in their work and personal life.
- Challenge their spin. Confront their spin and rhetoric privately, and in a safe space, and you’ll have more success in helping them move toward honesty.
- Encourage them to explore their failures as much (or even more) than their successes and achievements, and even share them in public forums. They will be quick to agree that learning from mistakes is vital, but may struggle to actually do so. This practice of constructive reflection and confession of failure is a powerful method of cultivating a pattern of honesty and self-awareness.
- Assure them that their value as an individual goes beyond their KPIs and output, as this is their default system of self-evaluation.
Practical Communication at Work:
- Don’t call them out in front of other people – especially their colleagues or superiors. You will lose their trust and their respect.
- Understand they are masters at winning over others – so put them in sales and PR roles. Don’t make them head of your customer experience team.
- Build structure around how to provide constructive criticism of their work or actions. Set a regular meeting in a safe and confidential environment, and make sure you emphasize how vital this processes is to their growth and success as leaders (a bit of reverse psychology to make failure taste like success). If you can sufficiently minimize the pain of failure, and amplify the benefit of failure-fueled success they will eventually take the bait and participate with more involvement – trust me.
- When they get frustrated at other team members ‘under-performance’, remind them of teamwork ethic, and that it’s about everyone crossing the finish line together.
- Challenge them to see the big picture, not just their own goals.
In summary, leading Rockstars can often feel like directing a force of nature. They are remarkably powerful and motivated people, and with the right leadership can be of immense value to your team and organization who can go on to achieve greatness. Left unchallenged and underdeveloped, Rockstars can be destructive to team productivity and their own careers and happiness. Guiding them along the path to maturity won’t be easy, but it will be so worthwhile.
Managing people and different personalities in business are what can make or break teams and client relationships.
AT UHY Haines Norton we know that long-term success in business is a result of great leadership. We created our Business Improvement and Coaching services to equip business leaders to navigate the challenges of leading a diverse collection of people, overcoming personality differences and cultivating healthy teams.
Talk with us, and let’s discuss how you can get your team functioning at peak health and productivity.
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