When you’re the only star

(Part 1 of 2)

You’re a star performer. The other members of your team aren’t. What do you do?

In the business world, almost everything is a team sport. As a technical writer, for example, you might be an all-star. But you succeed only when the other members of the team — writers, editors, artists, publishers, SMEs, managers — do their jobs effectively.

So what do you do when they’re not effective? Here are a few things that don’t work.

What doesn’t work: Carry the whole load

LeBron James shouting at teammate J.R. Smith

What were you THINKING??

You’ve probably seen this photo of LeBron James, by all accounts the best basketball player in the world. He’s confronting teammate J.R. Smith after Smith’s mental blunder in the first game in this year’s NBA Finals.

James’s Cleveland Cavaliers went on to lose that series — but not because he didn’t give it his all.

He spent more time on the court (by a wide margin) than his next busiest teammate. He attempted more shots. He accounted for nearly half of his team’s assists.

In sports we often admire the guy who “carries the team on his shoulders.” But when a team needs to be carried, when it relies too much on one person’s contributions, that’s not a good thing.

In your job, you can try to be LeBron James. You can try to carry the team on your shoulders. It might even work for a while. But in the end, two things will happen:

  • You’ll get tired, and your own performance will suffer.
  • Your teammates will never learn to stand on their own.

What doesn’t work: Head for the hills

Maybe you’re just too good for this team.

A few weeks after this year’s Finals ended, LeBron James left the Cavaliers and signed a contract to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.

While other factors certainly came into play (the Lakers agreed to pay him a lot of money), his decision surely was influenced by his feeling that his Cavaliers teammates simply weren’t good enough to win another championship.

So now he’ll play more minutes, take more shots, and probably scream and rant more than anyone on the Lakers.

A change of scenery might seem tempting. And sometimes, when an organization clearly isn’t the right fit, moving is the right choice. But if you move simply because you don’t have faith in your team, there’s a good chance you’ll be no better off on your new environment.

What doesn’t work: Feel helpless and stressed out

Here’s one of my favorite old baseball pictures (courtesy of “Tom’s Old Days” on Twitter).

Gil Hodges playing for the MetsGil Hodges, one of the most accomplished and popular members of the Brooklyn Dodgers, played on 2 World Series champions. But late in his career he found himself on one of the worst teams ever assembled: the 1962 Mets. There’s Hodges, in the middle of the picture, ready to make the play at first base, watching a teammate bobble an easy ground ball.

Closeup of Gil Hodges

Pick…Up…The…Ball!

Take a closer look. Every muscle is tense. Hodges is screaming at his befuddled teammate. Pick…Up…The…Ball!

Gil Hodges probably lost a lot of sleep during that 1962 season, a helpless participant as his team lost three-quarters of its games.

Have you ever felt like that: your own skills and talent going to waste while the team makes mistake after mistake? It can be frustrating. It can be stressful.

Maybe you’ve decided simply to absorb the stress and frustration. Instead of accosting your teammates, like LeBron James did, you go home every day and punch your pillow or scream at your TV.

If your heart doesn’t tell you that’s not sustainable, your body will. You need to find another way.

Gil Hodges’ story, fortunately, has a happy ending. I’ll tell you about it in the next installment, when I’ll share a few things that do work when you find yourself on a team where you seem to be the only star.

Until then, tell me about your experience. Have you ever found yourself in a position where you felt like the rest of the team wasn’t carrying its load? How did you handle it? What were the results?

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2 thoughts on “When you’re the only star

  1. Pingback: When you’re the only star (part 2) | Leading Technical Communication

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