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Let your Rock Stars Shine

Are you undervaluing your team with ambition bias?

We can characterize overachieving ambitious people as ‘A players’ and steady-Eddies as ‘B-players’. But if those so-called ‘B-players’ are exceptional at what they do, generate results and impact the business… aren’t they A-players?   

Here’s the thing: not everyone is an overachiever. Some people are consistent achievers. Don’t mistake consistent performance for mediocre, and don’t try to only hire people who are already looking at “what’s next.” To function properly, a team needs both stability and growth. While some people want a steep growth trajectory and welcome growth, variety, challenge, responsibility and change; others, on a more gradual trajectory, are experts in what they do (and love it) but they don’t want to be the next boss. The ambitions are different and important, and both need to be nurtured and recognized.

Your job as a leader is to figure out what’s important to your team members and where they derive value and meaning.

In her book, Radical Candor, Kim Scott describes these two groups of employees as “Rock Stars” and “Superstars” and, outlines the differences:

Steep Growth Trajectory

Gradual Growth Trajectory

Ambitious at work

Ambitious outside of work, or simply content in life

Want new opportunities

Happy in the current role


Rock Star (solid like the Rock of Gibraltar)

* Kim Scott, Radical Candor (2017, St. Martin’s Press)

Rock Stars and Superstars Change

You aren’t born one or the other and shouldn’t be labelled as such. Whether you’re a Rock Star or Superstar is more about how your work fits into your life goals.  Early in your career might be the time to learn the craft and hone the tools and travel. Or, it might be the time to focus, build your career, add new tools to the tool kit, take on new challenges and advance.  Down the road, you might be content to focus on raising kids or step into the CEO role you’ve always dreamed about.  As a leader, your job is to care enough know where people are at.

All stars shine when the skies are clear – recognize appropriately

Let your Rock Stars do the work they love and resist the urge to promote them because it might take them away from their key strengths. Instead, find other ways to recognize their contributions like leading think tanks, training new team members or taking their expertise on the road (if they are so inclined).  Appreciate and acknowledge these team members for their reliability, solid work ethic, expertise and impact on the business.

Challenge your Superstars to grow out of their jobs. Present new opportunities to learn, to tackle new initiatives with unknown outcomes, and to consider lateral moves to build their skills. Support and reward these team members for their initiative, creative thinking, and impact on the business.

Hire the star you need for each role on the team, and you’ll develop a team with great stability and growth, who love their jobs.

Catherine.jpgCatherine Ducharme is Director of Client Services with Smart, Savvy + Associates’ Smart Savvy Academy. We find high-calibre marketing, communications, creative and sales professionals with proven track records and in-demand skills for companies who need them, across the Pacific Northwest and in Toronto. We also provide leadership and training development programs for workplace programs, corporate retreats and individual growth opportunities. Contact Catherine to discuss your organization's training needs.

Catherine Ducharme

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