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Even Superstars Aren't Perfect

Dealing with a problematic superstar can be a daunting challenge for many leaders. While these individuals excel in their performance, their poor fit within the team can hinder overall effectiveness. Reasons for their misalignment can vary, from conflicting work methods to disrespectful behavior towards colleagues or a lack of collaboration. Despite their stellar results, the team may struggle to capitalize on opportunities, exhibit reduced synergy, and experience declining motivation and productivity. Addressing this situation requires overcoming the fear of potential consequences and taking proactive steps. Leaders must assess the negative impact on the team and business, identify the superstar's strengths and weaknesses, pinpoint problematic behaviors, develop succession plans, provide constructive feedback, and hold the superstar accountable for change. By fostering open dialogue and supportive accountability, leaders can navigate these challenges effectively, leading to a stronger and more sustainable team dynamic.

Published on

May 22, 2024

Written by

Rob Taylor

You may be one of the many leaders trying to cope with a problematic superstar. On the positive side, this person knows how to play the game to win and does win – consistently. On the negative side, they’re not a great fit on the team. Consequently, despite their unbeatable personal stats, they are dragging the team down.  

Someone can be a poor fit for any number of reasons. For instance, they may have their own way of doing things that does not line up completely with your company’s procedures. They might have an abrasive approach to others, even to the point of disparaging or disrespecting fellow employees. They might be perfectly pleasant to be around, yet not be willing to collaborate with or coach other team members. 

If you’ve got a superstar who is a poor fit, you will notice that the team as a whole

  • Is not able to capitalize on the full range of opportunities that are present
  • Does not demonstrate mutual synergy and supportiveness
  • Reflects a drop in overall motivation and productivity
  • Loses good people who feel they are not able to reach their greatest potential


It is a confounding conundrum. The superstar without question rocks his or her numbers. But the way in which he or she reaches those heights subtly prevents anyone else from doing so. 


6 Steps to Addressing Problematic Superstar Situations


Again, like many leaders, you may have been sitting on this problem for a long time. Too long, in all likelihood. You want to avoid conflict with your superstar, yet you recognize that you have a responsibility to the rest of your team because they feel frustrated and stifled. You know that the superstar’s behaviors are inhibiting your team from achieving their best, but the superstar’s output is so fantastic that you don’t want to risk upsetting or losing them. You are very uncomfortable perched on the horns of this dilemma, but you don’t know what to do to get off. 

Recognize that your sense of paralysis is caused primarily by fear: fear of risk, fear of loss (of sales, connections, revenue, knowledge, etc.), fear of change, fear of conflict, fear of the unknown, etc. Chances are that there are multiple fears swirling together in one bitter cocktail. The way to counter fear is to take action. Here are six steps that can help you overcome fear, get off the horns of this dilemma, and work for the good of your company, your customers, your team, and your superstar:


1. Understand how your team and business are being negatively impacted. 

It is easy to simply “let things slide” … especially when the superstar keeps delivering big wins. To overcome the fear of what might happen if you address the superstar’s inappropriate behaviors, you need to really understand what will happen if you don’t. Take a close look at your team’s motivation, productivity, sustainability, and all the rest of it. If you don’t take action, what is bad now will only get worse


2. Identify what makes your superstar a superstar. 

What makes your superstar so good at what they do? Is it their drive and energy? Their ability to connect and nurture relationships? Their innovative and visionary mindset? Their attention to detail? Their depth of experience and knowledge? When you identify what makes your superstar great, you will be positioned to know what the rest of our team can strive for and what might be unrealistic to expect. For example, your superstar might have a very charismatic personality; that is not something another person on the team can necessarily acquire. But that superstar might also have a particular method of converting prospects into customers; that is something the team could be trained on. 


3. Pinpoint your superstar’s problematic behaviors.  

It isn’t enough to simply say, “This person isn’t fitting in well with the rest of the team.” You need a detailed answer as to how and why, because you have to provide very specific feedback if you want to see a change for the better. And remember, this is about behaviors – not personality. For example, suppose a superstar has a very brusque personality. That is not going to change because it is intrinsic to who they are. What can be changed is the patronizing manner in which they speak to team members. 


4. Create alternative succession plans. 

The biggest reason leaders do not address problems with superstars is because of fear the superstar may leave. To counter that fear, create two succession plans. The first succession plan is the one you hope to use: the succession plan that involves the superstar in training and preparing his or her successor. The second succession plan is your fallback position in case the superstar decides to “take their marbles and go home.” It is the plan for how you will succeed as a team without the superstar. If that makes you apprehensive, remember that no one is irreplaceable – not even your superstar. You can succeed with or without them as long as you plan how to make that happen. 


5. Provide redirecting feedback to your superstar. 

At this point, you have a thorough understanding of the impact your superstar’s negative behaviors are having on your team, customers, and business. You know what makes your superstar great and what makes him or her not so great. You have plans to cover all eventualities. Now is the moment to call a meeting with your superstar and provide him or her with redirecting feedback. This is feedback that is clear about specific behaviors and their impact. You want to engage in discussion with your superstar to understand their perspective and, ideally, collaborate together on a solution and course of action.  


6. Hold your superstar accountable to change. 

The feedback conversation is not the end – it is a new beginning. Be sure to encourage your superstar and hold them accountable to the plan you have agreed to. With supportive accountability and a willingness on their part to help “replicate” themselves, your team and business will become stronger and more sustainable than ever. 

Might your superstar choose to leave – or stay but refuse to cooperate? Could you eventually have to fire them if they are intransigent and continue in their toxicity? Yes, it is possible. But in the majority of cases that I have seen, superstars have not been aware of the impact of their own negative behaviors. Once those issues are addressed, they are open to making changes because they really do value the team, the business, and the customer. Many times, they view the feedback as a gift because it helps them become even better at what they do. Truly, by taking action,  everybody wins!

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