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Star Performers
That Nobody Likes

I’ve been an executive coach for 35 years and during that time, I have been exposed to all kinds of situations—different clients, different companies—I’ve seen it all. What has struck me in the last couple of years is that thirty percent of my clients are what I call “star performers that nobody likes.” What makes a star performer? A star performer is at the top of his game. He delivers results beyond expectations, he’s an expert in his field, he knows the field that he works to a level that nobody else knows, or very few people know. He is really an expert, be it in sales, marketing, engineering; he really knows his field and he’s passionate about the job. He’s passionate about achieving results. He’s passionate about using his knowledge and skills to achieve results.

What makes him a person that nobody likes is the fact that he is completely unaware of his emotional impact on others. Words that come to mind when I think about these individuals are “underdeveloped empathy” and “lack of self-awareness.” So, underdeveloped empathy and lack of self-awareness, combined with an over-reliance on his areas of expertise and his passion, leaves others feeling devalued, insignificant, irrelevant, and not feeling very good about their self-worth. Those people may brand the star performer in different terms. The common ones are:

  • He is not a team player
  • It’s all about himself
  • He takes all the rewards and all the recognition; he doesn’t leave any space for anyone
  • He doesn’t listen
  • Throws temper tantrums
  • His way or the highway

Those are common expressions I constantly hear regarding the star performer that nobody likes. They recognize that he is very good but they also feel very inadequate in front of that person. Through the years, I have found that executive coaching is a good way to approach and help the star performer. Executive coaching, to be effective, requires several elements:

  • First, you need to have a very experienced and capable coach. Experienced means—he has been exposed to several situations. Knowledgeable—he knows the field of organizational behavior, interpersonal and intrapersonal dynamics, and understands how organizations work, and cultures in organizations.
  • Also, you need to have a sponsor. The sponsor is that individual in the organization that is very influential and has a high visibility in the organization because he is very credible in the organization and has a role of supporting the process and helping the coach and the individual guide and move through the organization as the star performer increases his competencies and his own self-awareness. The sponsor also holds the star performer accountable for his or her actions and development. The sponsor is clearly a statement of the organization of how relevant this star performer is. It shows that the organization is investing in this star performer and putting in the resources to make this star performer a complete success.
  • The process also needs to really focus on self-awareness by first understanding the natural tendencies of this star performer. What makes him who he is? What is it that makes him so successful and also what makes him not be liked? Those natural tendencies are what I refer to as the good, the bad, and the ugly for that star performer.
  • For that star performer to understand his behavior, he needs to get some feedback and that feedback needs to be very candid and unedited, and the coach needs to be able to position the feedback in such a way that it has the impact that is required for the star performer to hear it; not just in a rational way, but the emotional way. A lot of star performers understand it from a rational perspective; they may even joke about their style but that’s a way of rationalizing or legitimizing their style. They’re not really understanding it from an emotional place, and the coach needs to make that link—from the rational to the emotional.
  • The coaching process needs to shift as the progress is being made and that requires flexibility of the coach and the process itself.
  • The coaching process requires some quantitative measurements and for that I recommend the use of 360s at the front end of the process and at the back end of the process and then compare the two so the star performer can see the progress that he has achieved and make sure that it’s sustainable progress and not just situational progress.

I believe that all organizations need to make their “star performers that nobody likes” to star performers that are effective in working with others, and help them contribute to the success of the organization to its highest potential.