Avoid the ‘Superstar’ trap!

I caught up with an old friend of mine the other week that I haven’t seen for years and over a pot of tea we reminisced about our school days in the eighties when we thought we were the coolest cats on the planet.

 

One of the many topics we discussed was our favourite films and actors of the time. Mine, without a doubt was Eddie Murphy. I still remember the first time I saw Trading Places and then subsequently managed to get hold of a VHS of 48 hours, even though it was an eighteen certificate and I was only 16 at the time! (I am suddenly aware how old I am and conscious you may not even know what a VHS is – suffice to say it was basically the forerunner to DVD’s and downloads!)

 

I also remember the anticipation of going to see Beverly Hills Cop at my local cinema in South End Green with all my mates. Unfortunately that cinema is now a Marks & Spencer food store, but I still have my great memories.

 

Even though he was in three completely different films with supposedly different characters, i.e. a crook (48 hours), a down and out hustler (Trading Places) and a cop (Beverly Hills Cop), Eddie was always Eddie. He was a fast talking, funny guy who always seemed to find himself in trouble but ended up being the hero. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen any of the films I promise I haven’t spoilt them for you. I loved those films and thought that Eddie would become one of the most popular film actors ever, but surprisingly he didn’t.

 

Yes most people will have heard of him and he went on to make many more movies, but none (with the exception of Shrek where he voiced Donkey), would have anywhere near the commercial success of those first films.  As I was on the train home from meeting my friend I found myself wondering why?

 

And then it dawned on me, although Eddie Murphy was clearly the star, in all three of those 1980’s films he had a fantastic supporting cast. He didn’t always get all the best lines, but was able to feed off the other great performances around him, be it Dan Ackroyd, Judge Reinhold or whoever.  In fact what made those films so enjoyable was watching a team of good actors working together to make a great movie.  As I thought about it a bit more I realised, after those movies, for me at least, Eddie or those people advising him got a bit carried away with his success and started making it all about him. So much so, in some of his subsequent movies he played nearly all the parts!  Anyone remember the ‘The Nutty Professor and it’s dreadful sequel ‘The  Klumps’?  Oh dear!

 

This all got me thinking about the superstar status that individual team members can have in the teams we lead. I can speak from the experience on this one as I too led a team with a ‘superstar’ performer.  You know the ones that smash their targets, always deliver on time or are outstanding classroom teachers etc. They might not think they are superstars but there is a real danger that as leaders we treat them as such. I know it’s a trap I unwittingly fell into. We are so pleased they are delivering for us its natural to want to reward them with new and exciting opportunities to keep them motivated and wanting to perform. They get most, if not all of our attention leaving others in the team to potentially start to feel undervalued and unappreciated. Without meaning to we start to give the superstar individual ‘halo’ status whereby nothing they do is wrong and we lose sight of the fact it’s actually about a team performance, not just one individual.

 

You only have to see what the film studios did with Eddie – building up his part until everyone else in the movie was consigned to bit parts and caricatures of themselves.  If you don’t believe me go and watch Beverly Hills Cop 3 – it’s a truly terrible movie!

 

Interestingly Eddie Murphy’s film career does have a happy ending as he found massive success again with his role as Donkey in Shrek and its subsequent highly successful sequels. But when you look at these films they are based around a great story and a brilliant ensemble cast working together, rather than just one ‘superstar’.

 

It feels like an important thing for us as leaders to remember from a business or organisational perspective, it really shouldn’t ever be all about one individual getting all the plaudits and the opportunities, however well they perform, but about a team of people with a shared goal working together to deliver a great result.

 

It seems that for a while, at least, Eddie forgot that!

 

Thanks for reading, till next time

 

Martin

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