I love the distinction that Kim Scott makes in her book ‘Radical Candor‘ [non-affiliate link] between rockstars and superstars. And I think it has huge implications for how we lead, manage, and shape teams in our workplaces.
Rockstars vs Superstars - the definitions
🌟 Rockstar: a solid, stable performer on a gradual growth trajectory, or perhaps content exactly where they are. They provide a steady foundation for the team.
🌟 Superstar: a change agent ready for rapid growth. They’re hungry for new opportunities and making change. They push the team to keep moving forward.
So which are better - rockstars or superstars?
The case for rockstars
For decades, businesses have thrived thanks to their rockstars – steady, dependable performers, who show up and get their work done. They’re reliable and conscientious. You know exactly what to expect when you work with them. And they’re usually really easy to manage!
But, when you face uncertainty or need to change the way things are done, rockstars sometimes struggle to make the necessary leap into the unknown.
The case for superstars
If you listen to the way some people talk these days, then you’d think that a team of superstars is the ideal. After all, they’re hungry for growth, they’re pushing their limits, and they’re reaching for the stars. They drive innovation through their insatiable curiosity. They’re ready to move fast and break things, as the famous (or infamous) Silicon Valley saying goes. Sounds great! Or does it?
Too many superstars in a team can create instability and result in scattered efforts, as they each chase the ‘next big thing’ and forget (or neglect) to do the boring stuff that is required to keep an organisation functioning.
The best team is a blended team
In almost every organisation, you’re more likely to see more sustainable success in a team with a mix of rockstars and superstars.
It’s a yin yang thing – instead of a bunch of superstars falling flat on their face because they’re going too fast, the rockstars help make the pace sustainable. And instead of a bunch of rockstars getting stuck in old ways, superstars help everyone to embrace the necessary changes.
Leading and managing rockstars and superstars
Now, a blended team isn’t always easy to lead and manage. That’s because you’ve got people who want different things and respond to different leadership and management styles and incentives. You’ll need to grow as a leader to help your team do their best work.
Growing your leadership capability doesn’t have to be hard, and you don’t have to try to figure everything out on your own. Why not start by asking your people for their “user guide”? That is, how they prefer to work, what kind of communication works best with them, what incentives drive them, how they like to receive feedback, etc.
Then, start to shape the way you lead and manage your team with their user guides in mind. You won’t please everyone all of the time, but when you’re consistently making a sincere effort, your team will see that, and will want to help you improve.
So, what kind of stars do you have in your team? What kind of star are you? And how can you help each kind of star to shine brighter?
In addition to Radical Candor, I highly recommend Liz Wiseman’s book ‘Impact Players‘, which covers a different but overlapping approach.
For more on personal user guides, I recommend this post: A personal user manual for working with me