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Keep your thoroughbreds in your stable

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One expert’s profile of superstar performers:
  1. Very smart.

  2. Insecure and, thus, driven by their insecurities.

  3. Competitive.
That middle trait is telling. Insecure overachievers usually exceed expectations because they’re willing to operate outside their comfort zones in return for approval. Unless you visibly appreciate and reassure your superstars, they will pout and eventually bolt.

Here’s how to lead your superstars so that everybody’s happy:
  • Ask your inexperienced stars to serve as second chairs whenever the first chair meets with clients, especially if they’re a little rough socially.

  • Use them to coach “C” performers. Just make sure they don’t become overbearing and condescending toward “the little people.” None of today’s professionals will put up with that nonsense.

  • Make sure they stay engaged. Bright people burn out with boredom. If they’re running three furlongs ahead of the pack, the long straightaway to the finish will become excruciating. Give them something interesting to do, and remember that they have to define it as interesting.

  • Set boundaries. As far as workload is concerned, overachievers don’t know any limits. Typically, they’ll take on an insane amount of work, feel crushed under the load, and then light out for greener pastures only to find that they’re still overworked.

    That means you must not overload them, even if they want to be overloaded and even if you’re willing to compensate them for it. Don’t do it.

    Communicate clearly that you don’t want them to burn out, and let them help you delegate the work.

  • Let them triumph. Shove your own ego aside and, when your stars deserve the kudos (even if they’re a tad irritating), give them the kudos. Give in on practically all the little things in return for their following your strategy.
-- Adapted from “How to Keep ‘A’ Players Productive,” Caroline Alexander, Harvard Business Review.

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