This disproves the superstar theory of economic success

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

Do you believe that Steve Jobs or Bill Gates were superstars who created a large amount of wealth? Do you believe, in general, that there are superstars who should be given large rewards because they do amazing things? If so, consider this story as a counter-balance:

This person was an exceptionally sharp programmer. Everyone on the teams looked up to him. He had been with the company since the early days and not only knew our systems, but he seemed like a wizard in his depth of general computing knowledge. Everyone was in awe of his abilities.

He was also an incredibly frustrating person to deal with, was hard to work with, never seemed to completely finish something or follow-through, had a very pessimistic outlook on almost everything, and was an incredible time sink for myself and another senior leader in the company. Even so, everyone generally put up with him for the perceived benefits of his knowledge and productivity.

But, I decided, it was time. He had to adapt more to us or I had to let him go. I started the process with more intensive coaching, giving him one last chance with incredibly clear expectations and criteria. It didn’t work. I began the exit process and was blocked by the founder. The founder thought he was too valuable to let go and stopped me from moving forward. I pushed, the founder pushed back again, and I didn’t push more (another mistake).

The founder took him out of engineering and used him in a different role away from the engineering teams. The teams themselves wondered how they would manage without him, but they never missed a beat. Instead, new leaders emerged and in a few short weeks it was business as usual. In a few months the teams were more productive than ever and in less than half a year morale was the highest it had ever been.

Fast forward a year or so, I’ve physically moved continents to Australia and am no longer with the company. I get word from my friends that the founder finally pulled the trigger and let this person go. It didn’t work with the founder either.

The founder and I made the most classic of mistakes: putting up with someone because we were afraid to lose their ability. I’ve since come to learn over and over again, it’s almost never worth it.

Life is full of lessons, some learned the hard way and some the easy way. I consider this lesson learned the hard way. I’m happy I learned it, though, and I’m glad I can share it. Practically speaking, there is depth to the experience that might have been missed if you hadn’t experienced it.

First and foremost, have the fortitude to let the most talented or skilled person who also happens to be an asshole leave the company. Coach them out, ask them to leave, let them go if they decide to. You, as a leader, owe it to everyone else to make a tough call and make everyone else’s lives better.

If a super-star ruins the team, then get rid of the super-star, because it’s better to have a super-star team than a super-star individual.

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