Every coach longs to have superstars on his team. True superstars make our lives as managers easier, make other players on the team better, and allow teams to achieve great things. But some superstars, despite their transcendent talent, cause more problems than they solve. They become tyrants.
Tyrants are exceedingly dangerous because they are excellent day-to-day performers, and they may be very difficult to replace. However, if left to their own devices, they will inevitably cause harm to the team and undermine the performance and morale of your organization.
Years ago, as a first-year varsity high school basketball coach, I had the good fortune to have a superstar player returning for his senior year. This kid was 6-foot-5, could jump out of the gym, and had a wonderful soft touch around the basket. With him as our centerpiece, I felt confident we would do very well.
Unfortunately, he was a tyrant. His supreme talent was undermined by a lackluster work ethic and poor attitude. He knew well that my choice was to put up with his nonsense or go 1-19 in my inaugural season as head coach. He loafed at practice, talked back, and sulked whenever he was removed from the game. Our season ended in mediocrity and the team suffered because our "superstar" was selfish and his coach let him get away with it.
If you have a superstar tyrant on your basketball team or your administrative staff you must address the negative behaviors directly or lose credibility with your team. Be on the lookout for some of the behaviors below. If your most talented performers exhibit these, you have a tyrant on your hands.
Poor Internal Customer Service. An accounting or purchasing team is an internal customer service organization. If you have employees on your staff that are always negative or who treat calls from internal customers as an intrusion, then you have a tyrant. There are enough people out in the labor force that nobody should be forced to put up with poor internal customer service. Give the tyrant an opportunity to change the attitude, or extract him from the organization.
Unwillingness To Share Information. One clear indication that you have a tyrant in your midst is if you have someone who is the subject matter expert for the company, but that person refuses to share his knowledge because he believes this will insure job security. This can be combated with clearly written and published policies and procedures, by having audit controls in place, and by having regular cross-training and job shadowing regimens as a part of your training budget.
An "I'm Above All That attitude." Another classic symptom of a tyrant is the unwillingness to follow procedure or policy because he feels the policy is stupid or thinks he can ignore the policy without any consequence. A superstar will try to explain to his manager or owner why the policy doesn't work and try to engender change in a forthright way. A tyrant just ignores the policy and dares management to punish him. As the team leader, if you let him get away with this, it will destroy morale in all those good soldiers who do follow the rules.
Take a good look at the superstars on your team. Do you have Jerry Rice or Terrell Owens? Both are supremely talented, but I know who I'd pick if I had my choice. Remember, nobody is irreplaceable. The faster a tyrant realizes that, the better off you and your organization will be.
Chris Cook is a systems consultant and controller at Sanford and Hawley in Unionville, Conn. He also has been an LBM finance director, a software engineer, high school math teacher, and a high school basketball coach. Contact him at Chris Cook.