5 Ways Smart Bosses Manage Star Performers (Without Destroying Team Morale)

5 Ways Smart Bosses Manage Star Performers (Without Destroying Team Morale)

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Fairygodboss
June 22, 2024 at 7:2PM UTC

So-called “superstar” employees can have a sizable impact on the people they work with — and it’s not always a positive one. 

According to research, superstars are known to enhance their overall team’s productivity by as much as 54% and are responsible for generating as much as 80% of a business’ profits. So, what could be so bad about having one of these remarkable employees on your team? A few things

For starters, not all superstars are team players. But even if a superstar does care deeply about the success of other people on their team, the amount of attention and resources they receive from management can send a different message. 

Because superstars are often seen as the by-default weight carriers on their team and the ones who are ultimately presumed to achieve more, a superstar’s colleagues may struggle to receive a fair share of training and resources. Companies are encouraged to pour these resources into developing their top talent, in particular. And if a manager is convinced that one of their direct reports is THE star performer on their team, that employee may receive an unequal amount of the manager’s time, attention and mentoring efforts, creating a disparity in the overall team’s access to professional development. 

It’s also worth noting: being designated a “superstar” is by no means an objective process. It’s inherently tied to how you’re seen by those in leadership, and these individuals could carry unconscious biases that make them likelier to recognize superstar potential in employees who remind them of themselves. When most companies’ leadership remains so overwhelmingly white, cis, straight and male — who gets to become the “star performer” in those spaces?

Having a “superstar” on the team may not only be difficult for those who work alongside them. Superstars themselves say the way they’re treated isn’t always fair, either.

“As a top performer, I have been asked to hide my awards and accomplishments to keep my team members from feeling ‘threatened’ or uncomfortable. And when I succeed, it's a ‘team effort’; when a team member succeeds, they are recognized by name,” one woman anonymously wrote on FGB. “I am actively trying to advance my career, but my boss is diligent in ensuring that I am not treated or seen as if I am ‘special’ in any way. I don't get any extra attention, time, mentorship, praise, or recognition — in fact, I seem to get less than everyone else, even though I want it the most. It feels terrible. In this environment, being a ‘superstar employee’ seems like the worst thing to be.”

Another woman shared that in her current role, she’s felt forced into being the team superstar.

“I am someone who is considered a superstar employee. I achieve and then overachieve. A small part of this is due to my personal work ethic. A larger part is because my team has no interest in improving performance or meeting deadlines, and most work falls onto me,” she wrote. “I've been delegated two to three people's amount of work because my colleagues are not pulling their weight… I don't actively seek out this status. It is exhausting and depressing… some superstars are merely products of toxic environments.”

Situations like these may result in an increased rate of burnout for superstar employees. 

Ultimately, a superstar should be able to benefit those around them and enhance a team’s culture while also staying empowered to pursue their own ambitions full-throttle. A lot of it comes down to how they’re managed. 

As FGB’er Rayna Fort put it: “In my experience, true stars contribute greatly to culture. They set a high standard and others are empowered to work to their potential. Others see the potential and reward of doing well and are challenged. A true star builds up everyone around them.” 

If you’re a manager with a superstar on your team, here are five ways to ensure that person is able to shine without dimming the morale of the team as a whole.

1. Regularly seek input from everyone on your team — not just the superstar.

Perhaps consistently having excellent ideas is one of the qualities that makes your superstar a superstar. But if you stop even attempting to hear ideas and input from others on the team, as well, and are seen as only being interested in what the superstar has to say — that’s likely to cause team morale to plummet. 

2. Avoid overloading the star employee, and keep an active pulse on their feelings about their workload. 

Of course, as a manager, you should have a sense of how ALL players on your team are feeling about their work-life balance. That goes without saying. But it’s true that burnout can often plague top performers, in particular. That’s because the accolade of “superstar” isn’t given based on ability alone — it’s driven by the amount of time, energy and dedication someone is seen as giving to their job. And for overachievers, it can sometimes be difficult to scale back in these areas. 

3. Praise the accomplishments of everyone on your team. Period. 

There isn’t really a way around this one — and shouldn’t be. Your employees shouldn’t have to question whether their hard work will be noticed by you, and that certainly goes for superstars, as well. Contributing to a superstar’s sense of burnout oftentimes is the feeling that their level of performance is simply expected and is no longer appreciated. Avoid this by regularly, actively praising the work of a superstar — while staying mindful of how much airtime you’re allotting to team praise in general. The more encouraged other team members feel, the likelier they are to become superstars themselves, after all. 

4. Build in space for regular feedback. 

And that means more regular than an annual performance review. Superstar employees are constantly seeking ways to improve and new directions to expand in, and without a system of regularly receiving feedback, that can be difficult to do. Systems of regular feedback can only help others on the team develop and elevate their game, as well. And the feedback can go both ways, as these should be spaces for all employees to vocalize what they need from you, too. 

5. Offer opportunities for development.

A star employee will need to feel sufficiently challenged to stay engaged at work — and beyond that, all employees require opportunities for development to ascend the ranks and become the top-performing versions of themselves, as well. In your 1:1s with employees, make a point of regularly bringing up ideas for new directions in which employees can stretch, programs they can participate in, etc., and keep open ears for employees’ own ideas to this end.

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