In this episode, Frank and Ian debate how to lead superstars in a business. In many companies, 80% of the output comes from 20% of the producers. So should those stars be afforded different perks than their peers? *Ian is clearly the star of this podcast but his selfless willingness to also do all of the grunt work behind the scenes is really what makes the LMSTAM podcast go.
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Should Top Performers Get “Star Treatment?”
This episode is going to be like therapy for you because you work with a star on this show and it’s probably very challenging for you. Maybe we can work through some of your challenges.
I worked through a star with none of the star treatment.
We are talking about star employees. The folks that we are talking about, all the parallels are in sports, obviously. These are the folks that drive the lion’s share your results in an office, whether your company is tiny or enormous, there are stars in every team that tend to deliver more of the results. Do you remember Mike Alstott from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, big fullback? He’s a Hall of Famer animal. He did that in the NFL. He ran over people. You can imagine what it would be like being on his team at Purdue, 250 pounds and he could run like a halfback. He was an animal, an all-American fullback.
I had a few friends that were on Purdue’s football team when I was a freshman and Alstott was a senior. I would ask them about practice and what’s it like to try to tackle Alstott. They were like, “You are not allowed to hit Alstott in practice.” I was like, “What?” They are like, “He wears a red jersey.” This was in ‘94. I’m like, “As a quarterback?” They are like, “No. Our quarterbacks don’t wear red. We can hit the quarterbacks. You can’t hit Alstott.” A fullback wasn’t allowed to be hit because he was so important to the team. Literally, he was our entire team. He would run people over. We only won 4 or 5 games. That’s the whole season. In all games, Alstott ran for 280 yards.
In practice, the coach made it clear, “You are not allowed to hit Alstott.” No one complained because it hurt to hit Alstott. They didn’t want it in any way. It’s a great example of a star getting star treatment because football practice sucks. That would be nice to go through your college career without being able to get hit because you are that good.
As the star of this show, I’m going to fact-check you and see how many times he ran for 280 yards.
It is probably not accurate but he did have a few 200 yards games in ‘94.
You went off script on me. I didn’t know you are going with Alstott. That’s incredible.If your star is going to get bid up in the market, you have to offer them things that another company won't give them. Click To Tweet
I want to throw you off a little bit but there are all kinds of stories like we were talking about. Bo Jackson talks about how he saw the practice as unnecessary. Specifically, he thought all the running in practice was unnecessary. He got into an argument with his running back coach and pretty much said, “I’m not going to sprint hard anymore.” Their coach was like, “We will see how that works out in the game.” He went off and blew up in the game.
Pat Dye, after that, was like, “Bo wasn’t the kind of athlete you wanted to wear out and practice anyway.” They had these rules. except if you have a guy that comes along every 50 years. That’s an unreal athlete. You see that in all sports like in Allen Iverson. We are talking about practice is pretty famous, where a lot of people were saying, “Allen didn’t want to go to practice. Anyone who ever played against Iverson in a game knows that you were getting 100% of him, whether he practiced hard or not.” You can find these examples all over the sports world.
What’s interesting to me and my favorite one is from down deeper in the agenda but I will use it now is when the Cowboys were bad and when they’ve got good, I was young. I was in high school and early in college. They won their first Super Bowl when I was in high school. Their second one was when I was in college. I remember hearing an interview with Jimmy Johnson, and he was talking about Emmitt Smith. What was interesting is he goes, “There is no way in hell I treated Emmitt Smith the same as I treated undrafted free agent rookie left tackle.” I didn’t understand management then but I heard that and I was like, “That’s pretty interesting.” I come from a world where everyone is treated fairly in my mother’s role. I thought that stood out.
As I’ve got into my career, what I started to realize was a couple of things, stars do get treated differently. What we are going to talk about in this episode is there are repercussions if it’s not handled properly. Athletes are hard to compare to business owners or business people because, in the world of business, you don’t usually know the numbers 2, 3 or 4. They don’t become super famous. Even your rock star CEOs, there’s someone behind Elon Musk. It’s not just him and a bunch of cars. There are a bunch of people at Amazon, Apple or other things but you don’t hear about them. You hear about the rock star CEO.
In the world of sports to someone like Emmitt Smith, he retired somewhere between 35 and 40. I don’t think he made it to 40. Ian and I are a decade older than that. You can get your stride in business older. Your body wears out in sports. Some of these examples of getting up and not aging well tend to be because the body runs out. That was one of the first examples I ever saw of treating an athlete or someone differently because they are a star, and someone coming out and being like, “That’s true.”
Sports teams are such obvious parallels in business, especially if you think basketball. A star in basketball, if you’ve got a Michael Jordan or LeBron James, literally one person can change your entire season, which you have seen with LeBron over and over. When he comes to Cleveland, they start winning. When he leaves Cleveland, they are the worst team in the league and get Kyrie Irving in the draft. When he comes back, they win a championship. When he leaves, they are the worst team in the NBA.
When you look at how much a star drives, it’s the same in business. It’s the 80/20 Rule. Eighty percent of your production comes from 20% of your inputs. It’s the same with people. You typically have people that drive an extraordinary amount of production for your company. A reason why these folks get different treatment is one, they earn a little bit of autonomy and input. They are also the most in-demand. When I talk about LeBron James, when he goes into free agency, every NBA team is trying to figure out a way to get him.
There are ten teams every time that is willing to pay the largest sum of money ever paid to an NBA player. If you know your star is going to get bid up in the market, you have to offer them things that maybe another company won’t give them. Also, some different things and treatment that they won’t get or if you are trying to recruit a star away from somebody, you have to give them some things that maybe they are not getting from their company.
A famous example of this is Kawhi Leonard. He was a basketball star for the San Antonio Spurs. He won a couple of championships with Coach Popovich. Coach Popovich is very much an old-school driver who pushes you hard to play in every game. Leonard wanted more input into the offense. He wanted more days off during the year. He didn’t run his body down and Pop won’t him having it.
Toronto said, “We will give you all that and pay for your own personal trainer that works on your body all year round. We will spend a huge amount of money to make sure that your body stays fresh. We will give you extra days off. We are going to give you input.” They recruited them away from San Antonio and they were rewarded. They won a championship by doing that.
The Spurs have sucked ever since he left. Being stubborn, you have to understand that there are trade-offs for results. Popovich might have known exactly what he’s doing because he cares long-term about the culture of his organization and what he’s trying to do but there are trade-offs when it comes to stars always.
When you were talking about that star treatment, I was thinking about something different. When I was a kid, middle school age, I had a buddy. His name was Nate Denton. His dad played in the NBA. We all immediately thought, “Nate Denton’s dad was going to be an incredible coach because he played in the NBA.” He wasn’t.
One of the things that were cool about it was, he said to us, “If somebody gets the hot hand, we are going to feed them until they are ice cold.” One of the reasons that twelve-year-olds don’t do that is nobody pass and you just shoot the crap out of it. That’s what we ended up doing. That was a unique methodology when I was 12 or 13 years old that there’s a shooter and a hot hand. He was a pro and accustomed to working with people who were pros, good at shooting, and better than us as twelve-year-olds but it’s a mentality. You give the best player the ability to have that latitude.
There are lots of great examples of sports. What I think is the most relevant thing is, in business when you have a hot shooter, how do you treat them so the hot shooters will become cancer? If the hot shooter turns into a ball hog, even as 12-year-olds, the 12-year-olds lose interest. They are not going to run up down the court. There’s no chance in hell you are going to win 1 in 5 in basketball. You need to temper this.
What Ian and I are going to talk about is the good examples of when you should or how you prioritize but like everything else in life, there’s not one specific thing you can say that’s a panacea or a cure for all of these things. You have to use it in doses. Use properly in sports, it works. Use properly in business, it works. At a 5,000 person company having a star or two is not as evidence. It is if you work at a 50 person company and you have a star or two because it can start to send the wrong messaging. Those are the little things you have to worry about.A star who can deliver a lot has leverage over the organization. Click To Tweet
Do you also have to think about where do you put priority? We did our Star Wars episode. We talked about Boba Fett. I picked Boba Fett because he was a mercenary but he’s the best at what he does. When you are a small business, you’ve got to survive. In some ways, it makes sense to prioritize the star but at the same time, you have to start looking at, “Is there a period? Is there a fault room? Are we prioritizing the star too much where you lose the balance of the team?” That’s something that, as a manager or an owner, you have to think about it hard.
The different sports are great that we are talking about it because basketball, one person by far, has such a big impact. If you take one person on a football team unless it’s the quarterback, if they take Antonio Brown, the star who got too big for himself, they lost them, you lose a receiver. You can pretty much move on without a receiver. It’s most positions you can move on without.
That’s the same when you talk about a startup versus a big company. There are times in a startup’s life when a star engineer or marketer is the lifeblood of your organization. You literally don’t run without them. You have to concede a lot of things because what we are talking about here is a star who can deliver a lot has to leverage over the organization.
You see this a lot with salespeople. They get this God complex of, “If I left, I’m 40% of the book here. I will take my book with me. What are you going to do?” They start to act like that a little bit. To me, that’s about as dangerous a place as you can be in as a business when someone starts to act that way but they start to remind you that they are everything. That’s when you are not doing a great job of running a business because you need to be finding better people that can come in and diversify away from one person holding you accountable.
They can hold what they have leverage over you in a way that isn’t right or fair. It’s a perilous position to be in as an owner because it’s almost powerless. You have these people that you know. I live in Richmond, Virginia. For those of you that don’t have the map or a globe, we used to be the center of the Confederacy. Since this convent, most of the statues, the monuments are down. You found there are a bunch of pedestals or open platforms.
I went to coffee or lunch with some guy, a business owner in town. He said something to me that I thought was fascinating. This was before all the statutes got ripped down. This was his opinion. He said, “The solution here is Chemistry.” I said, “What does that mean?” He goes, “Chemistry.” I go, “I’ve got a C in Chemistry. Maybe you need to give me a little bit more.” He goes, “We need to dilute the problem through Chemistry. We keep the statues but we put more statues up. If there are 300 statues on Monument Avenue, the 6 that were here for 150 years, it may symbolize something different lose their importance.”
That was a fascinating takeaway for me because that’s what I look at with business. If you have a star, you prioritize somebody. If you use chemistry and you can dilute it, if your star is one of many, there’s a backup plan. There are people underneath that person. There’s a succession plan in place. That’s when it changes. That’s instead of being captive to someone, you become in a position of strength as a business leader or owner because you have what’s called a bench. One person defecting means less to you.
When I had 50 employees is different than 5,000 but when I have a start employee leave and I have 50, as long as it doesn’t turn into 5 or 10, or I don’t have an exit is I’m in way better shape than I would have been in when I had five employees and someone left. Five employees and someone leaves, 20% of our workforce left. There’s most likely not a training plan or an ascension plan.
In fifteen employees it’s the same. In 25 employees, you are starting to get the scale, 50 employees, 1 out of 50. What does that? Two percent. It could be someone that’s a high-powered person and they are probably harder to replace with just one. We have 50, do you have enough room to promote from within and get these people to step up and lead from a different perspective?
You are trying to answer the question of, “Do I treat a star differently?” The answer is the same as every question you ask as a business owner or a manager, which is, “Yes, as long as it’s still creative to your business, it’s additive to treat the star differently, if keeping that star, if you need to do that to keep that star, and that star can handle it well.” These are two important pieces. One, you should try to keep stars by all means necessary with the caveat as long as they can handle it.
When it starts to go to their head and they start to become a different performer, when they start to make their teammates feel a little bit different, now it starts to become dilutive to your team because 1 person being happy and 49 being miserable, it’s not real good for business. At that point, you need to look at it and say, “I probably need to start treating the star a little bit differently than I am, which is the same as everyone else because they have let this go to their head. It is starting to hurt my entire team.”
The question always you ask is, “You do it as long as it serves you. When it stops serving you, you stopped doing it.” There was no rule. You have to treat a star differently but it all comes down to who has the leverage. As long as it’s still to your advantage as a company, it’s still helping you and they can handle it well, and the team is accepting of that.
I used the Mike Alstott example because no one on the team bitched that he had a red jersey on. That entire team thought he was one of the hardest workers. He was a great teammate. He was a captain. They knew he wasn’t afraid of getting hit. They also knew, “We are going to lose without him. We will lose every game without him. He’s our ticket. Don’t hit him in practice.” It didn’t ruin the chemistry of the team that he had different rules.
It was fine and Mike handled it well. From everyone I talked to, he was an amazing teammate. He never made you feel like, “I’m an all-American and I’m going to be a pro.” If you would have handled it poorly, I bet the coach would have changed, “Take the jersey off. You are getting hit. You are an asshole. You are hurting the whole team.”
These are people we know incredibly well from watching Sports Center but on the opposite of that spectrum is Allen Iverson who got up publicly. Ian put this in the notes with the whole Ted Lasso thing. My wife knows nothing about sports. If you have not seen Ted Lasso, there’s this hysterical thing where he literally goes bar for bar through the entire presser where Allen Iverson talks about his practice. I will go deeper here, which I think is interesting with Allen Iverson is he mentioned practice.Just like everything else in life, there’s not one thing you can say that’s a panacea or a cure. You have to use it in doses. Use it properly in sports, it works. Use it properly in business, it works. Click To Tweet
When he was on the podium after games, the NBA changed its dress code because of Allen Iverson. He did not look like somebody who was promoting the game. He was in streetwear and it was a bad look. The NBA is a multibillion-dollar business. He was the one who changed that. In addition to that, he was in trouble in college and high school. He went to prison. What you are looking at with this person here is someone who comes out where he says this thing about practice, famously fought with this coach.
The best player around is the number one overall draft pick in the NBA. The kid was smaller than Ian and me. You’ve got to be incredible to be in the NBA at 6’1” and 145 pounds soaking wet. He was in transcendent town but there’s a track record of crap and manure that this person has been hauling around with them for years. The kind of person who famously headbutted Larry Brown was his coach for the majority of his career. Larry Brown was a really stubborn guy. He ended up leaving and winning championships in Detroit. The thing about it is you have this star but the star was too immature to handle it. He’s the opposite of Alstott.
Larry Brown didn’t handle it well either, nor did the commissioner. You had someone who was bringing in a ton of money. He was the most popular basketball player in the league. They called him The Answer. The question was, “Who’s the next Michael Jordan?” He got the nickname and it was like, “Allen Iverson is the answer.” That’s how he got it. He was a must-see and must-draw.
Both sides didn’t handle the whole Allen Iverson thing well. The commissioner didn’t handle the fact that the new kids coming in were a little bit different than you can’t keep making them wear a suit every day when he had come in. It’s very different now on some of it on both sides because the one thing that never happened is Allen Iverson’s teammates never came out and said, “He’s a terrible teammate.”
To anyone who ever played with Iverson said he was an amazing teammate. Was he a winning teammate? He probably shot too much for someone that couldn’t shoot much and could have passed a little more. He could have listened to Larry Brown and grown a little better from him. Larry probably could have handled him a little bit differently if the two of them were both talking about the way that whole thing went down. It all comes down to what serves you and what doesn’t but the ways that you treat star is different.
We can go through some of that with Iverson but with all of them, the first one is obviously pay. If they are a star, there is a very high percentage chance that they are going to be a star for someone else. Meaning they are in high demand. We talked about free agency and sports but let’s be real, every employee in the business is a free agent. Every day they wake up, they are a free agent and are on the market. Anyone can call them at any time and offer them a lot more money than you are paying them. You can’t do anything about it.
I hire people. You are doing it with keep but I do it every day here. The market now is nuts. It is absolutely an employee’s market. I want to say that in different business cycles, it changes on who is and who is not in control, and the down cycle, the employer is a control. With technology and where the market is, employees have a lot of power.
Most industries get this wrong. Most mature companies that have been around a long time let HR get way too involved in pay. We pick on HR a lot on this show and they are in every bit of it. If I had a dollar for every time some dope in HR told me that an offer I wanted to make would put them over the range or I need to go give this person an increase because the market has dramatically changed. They are getting offers for $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 $60,000 more than we are paying them. That’s over our range and we are not going to be able to change the ranges until we are in the year. It’s asinine.
In working within a company, you can’t say, “This is the range and that impacts the market.” The market tells you what your range is, and your range should change day-to-day. Maybe you have a range. If you’ve got twenty people in that position, the range is good. They keep you in line. It’s a guide but if you’ve got someone who’s doing 2, 3, 4 times the production, they literally produce what four people hired off the street could do and you are trying to keep them in the same range, it’s insane.
If you are an employee reading this and you think you are a star, it doesn’t matter how you talk, dress, communicate in the office, and what people think of you. Are you producing at a range that is so incredibly high that it would be insanely difficult to replace you? If the answer is yes, you should be asking for more money because the truth is a competitor would pay you for more money.
Every time LeBron is a free agent, he gets offered the highest salary of all time. It’s happened six times. Every team he’s gone to has paid off to give him that money. It has made sense to give him money because not only is he a good star, he’s a good teammate. He takes care of his body. He does all the things. He shows up. He’s available. He plays the games. It’s worth it to pay him.
The number one way that stars get differentiated in a company is, you don’t just pat them on the head more. You pay them more than everyone else. You put your money where it’s worth, and you say, “You are worth a lot to my company and my profit. I want you to be paid higher than everyone else because of that.” They’ve got to be consistent. They’ve got to produce consistently not one year.
Pay is the scorecard for competitive people. If someone is a star, they are absolutely going to be paying attention to paying comp. What you realize in the career of an athlete, your window is smaller. It’s no different from when you and I had some momentum in our careers. We realize we have some leverage here. When I’ve got a huge increase, it was because I had a job offer from somebody else.
I told my boss, “I would be stupid not to take this.” They beat it. He goes, “If I beat this, will you stay?” I’m like, “I don’t want to leave but I have to.” Those are part of the things that are part of this process. The other thing is this. We are going to toggle back and forth here. As an owner, you can’t have all-stars because if you have all-stars, nobody wants to do the grunt work. I don’t know if you can even say this anymore but you can’t have all chiefs and no Indians. It used to be allowed to be said.
The point is you can’t have everybody on the star payment star treatment. It isn’t there but when you are putting together a team, if you realize you have someone who gives you otherworldly performance, and that person does 2, 3 or 4 jobs or has the productivity of people that do 2, 3 or 4, the pay range doesn’t mean a damn thing. That person is producing at multiples that are off the charts on the other side. I don’t have an HR department, thus the reason I spew these things about the way that I do. In addition to that, you have to look at that, balance it, and realize talented people have choices. You can take care of them in pay and realize you are going to get something else in return.
That’s the number one way you can differentiate. The schedule is another one in which you can treat a star a little bit differently. We will stick with the athletes. I talked about Kawhi Leonard. Something important to him was, he got more rest days on the road. Remember when Roger Clemens was on the Astros, the Hall of Fame pitcher, and he wouldn’t even go on road trips with the team? If he wasn’t pitching on a three-day road trip, it was in his contract that he didn’t get on the plane and fly.One person being happy and 49 being miserable is not good for business. Click To Tweet
Roger Clemens was 40 when he was pitching for the Astros. The truth is it wasn’t good for him. An old man to go get on a plane, lose sleep, sleep in a hotel. If his next start was four days from now, is it better for him to get on that flight, be around the team and his old legs would be more tired because he wasn’t sleeping in his bed, getting his workouts, his training or is it better than it was his time to pitch? He would shut down the opposition.
It turns out he was on a shitload of steroids. If you remember, he held out. He pitched for the Yankees on this agreement, and then he held that again. He did it for the Yankees again. He did it for the Astros for 1 or 2 seasons and then he did it again for the Yankees. It was one of these things that everyone thought was absolutely nuts. People saw the results you can get out of a part-time player. It changed. They ended up doing it again with Andy Pettitte when he was with Houston. It was this back and forth type of a thing where they started to realize, “Wow.”
All those teams you have mentioned, the Yankees and Astros team he was on, and he did it in Toronto a little bit because he was older and that was part of his agreement, those teams didn’t complain and a couple of them won championships. They went to the World Series. It tells me Clemens was probably a good teammate because no one was complaining, arguing or saying he was rubbing in the face.
No one complained because they’ve got the rocket every five days. When he got the ball, he took care of business. The young guys were like, “This is bullshit. I’ve got to go on road trips and I’m not pitching.” They were like, “He’s a little bit older and he earned it. He’s got seven Cy Young Awards.” He didn’t upset the team chemistry. What it keeps coming back to is, “Is it creative or dilutive for Roger to have a different schedule than everyone else?” It turns out it was creative to that team. It added to their performance.
I’m going to pivot from the sports world to the work world. Roger Clemens, these types of things are a bit dated. If you look at it now, schedule. What is the schedule in the world post-Coronavirus? Zoom, PTO, working from home, working remotely. I saw an interview with Mr. Wonderful. He’s the guy from Shark Tank with the bald head who sits in the middle. He was like, “The world is different.”
He said people come to him and multiple of his companies that are insanely talented and say, “I don’t want to live in this cramped space anymore. I’m moving to Montana. I will work for you but I’m doing it for Montana. I’m not doing it from New York.” If you are a project manager and walking job sites, it’s impossible. You’ve got to be walking job sites in the city where the homes are.
If you are in a different part of business, that’s part of it. You, as an employer, need to realize, “I’ve got talent,” and you have to stretch your management style to allow smart people. I was on a phone call before we’ve got onto this show with a placement service. I had a hunting service. We are looking for some high-level people. One of the conversations that we had was he’s going to want some flexibility in scheduling. No problem.
I was like, “To be clear, for the first month or two, I’m going to need them in the office to understand, be it meetings, see people, and do those things. I would imagine a work schedule of 3 off and 1 or 2 on. The office would easily work for us as long as they understood the rhythms and who was in charge of what and there was some synergy. I don’t want the person to think they are alone on the field like they are together.” The quote back was, “That seems perfectly reasonable.” That’s something that years ago, we have been, “Screw you. Get in the office.” Now because you’ve got highly talented people and technology has changed, you absolutely can embrace that.
I ran a mortgage company, and this is before we had gone paperless. Nowadays, it’s not paper. We are running it. There were files that were 2 inches thick that you had to submit. We had a real paper on a file before someone could get approved with an underwriter. It would have all kinds of very confidential stuff, Social Security number, bank statements, income and all that.
You had people on your team that would process the loan. They would talk to the customer, collect documents, work with an underwriter to get the approval. At the time, you couldn’t work remotely. You couldn’t do it because of all the files. You had to go where all the files were. A processor might have 100 files in their cabinet. They were working on it at any given time.
We had one of our most senior processors. She was dynamite. We paid her over the range. She was an amazing person. I loved her and she had the best metrics in our company. Everything we measured her on, she was dramatically better than anyone else doing the job. She had two aging parents and she couldn’t work in the office anymore.
She tried to put in a resignation. We said, “How about we try to make this work with you doing it from your house?” She was like, “I don’t know.” “We will get you a dedicated phone line. If you can get results, we won’t care.” For six months, she did it and nothing dropped. All of her performances did great. She would come into the office, get files from time to time and meet with her salesperson. She was phenomenal.
For five years, when no one else was allowed to work from home, she worked from home and got results. Every once in a while, we had a new processor who wasn’t real good but relatively new, chirp and asked the question, “Why is she allowed to work from home and no one else gets that flexibility? I have kids and I’ve got to get them to school.” The answer was real simple, “Put up a few years with the exact results she has and we will give you the same latitude.” No one could ever touch her results. It was triple the production anyone else could do. We treated her differently. We gave her a different schedule.
I’m going to go back to this. She was the most humble person. Everyone knew her reasons for having to work from home. They weren’t selfish. They were selfless reasons. She was the best teammate. She went out of her way to make people feel good. She made nobody feel like, “I’m special. I’m getting privileged. I’m entitled.” People loved her. No one ever even thought about complaining, outing her or demanding the same things again. Had I asked our corporate office if I could do that, they would have said no to me. I did it without telling anyone and made the decision. It was smart. I had a star. She needed a different schedule and I treated her differently. No one complained. It was additive to the team.
When you left, were you in the top 10 or 15 executives in the company? Did you have competitors or peers who had a similar role to you when you made this decision about this woman?
Yes.Pay is the scorecard for competitive people. Click To Tweet
What also happens is Ian was a star. Ian made some decisions that had latitude, that of others are going to look at them but they also said Ian is running a division or region that’s four times as big as anybody else. He’s got the best results. He is using some non-traditional methods of managing. It’s one of the reasons he became a star. It’s one of the reasons that when someone probably did find out about this, they probably found out about it from someone else before it, and in the end, he got away with it because he made a good decision.
He was also really good and it’s easy to back that stuff up. It wasn’t something that was derisive or was focused on by others and they are like, “Look at Ian pulling this bullshit.” He was getting incredible results and he made a smart decision that could be backed up. He had support because he was also a high performer. These things work together.
That’s a big example of someone working in a different location. Letting a star skip out on certain meetings or training that you know is going to be redundant. I have had many managers whom I have said, “Do I have to go to this?” We are asking everyone else on the team but they would say, “No. You don’t have to.” Those are little things that were afforded to me but those are also the same managers that knew they were asking me to work 60 hours a week.
They knew I was killing myself to get great results and an extra day would have meant I was working an extra day on the weekends. They would say, “I will get you out of this one. I will come up with a reason why you can’t show up to this all-day meeting in Pittsburgh,” or something that was important elsewhere. I was producing good results, so I would be afforded the same things.
The next thing we are talking about is autonomy. Speaking of autonomy, sometimes a quarterback’s got to call audibles and speed things along. I’m going to do that here. We’ve got to look at with audibles Veterans versus Rookies. They have this incredible thing on TV where they have an entire broadcast. The Monday Night crew is up there but then they have these two ding-dongs, Peyton and Eli Manning, from their living rooms and they are getting better ratings. The reason they are getting better ratings is they are both Hall of Fame quarterbacks. They will sit there, chew the fat and talk about the game.
You realize the reason they can do this in a way that is incredibly better. It’s a better product than a fully produced Monday Night Football crew is because they both know what they are doing. They are both stars and had incredible autonomy, especially Peyton. They could make lots of audibles because of the way they understood the game and how they did things. They were incredibly good. Ian and I joked in prep on this. An offense may play 75 plays. Peyton probably called 60 to 70 of them by himself because he was a star. He was prepped. He knew it. He worked insanely hard.
If you have a rookie quarterback and they have not delivered anything in the league and a coach calls a play, they are not allowed to just be audible all the time. Whereas a veteran who gets it right more often they get it wrong can pretty much change the call whenever they want. Where you give people more autonomy is you might have 6 or 7 managers working for you.
I know I was like this. If I had fired a couple of region managers that were brand new, I promoted them. I wanted them to check with me a little more than I did my veterans. For now, “Forget about making a decision on A, B, C or D. Check with me. I’m going to let you pretty much do what you want to do but at least let me know what’s going on. I need to be in the loop on how you make decisions.”
Whereas in someone who has been working with me for 7 or 8 years, I’m not asking for them to ever check with me. Some of this isn’t even just about stars. Autonomy is about comfort level. With a star, they are the star for a reason. They make a lot more good decisions than bad ones. It might be pricing. It might be, I know myself as a rookie sales rep at GE, I had no autonomy to cut the price. If I was given a price and a proposal at a 25% gross margin and the customer said no, I had to come back to a whole other meeting and sell them why it should come down. That was my rookie year.
Three years later, after I was a top ten rep, I didn’t ask anyone. I knew, “That meeting is a waste of time. They are going to let me come down to 22%. I’m going to negotiate right here and get the deal and then go tell my boss, ‘I’ve got the deal but I had to come down $10,000.’” I wouldn’t catch any shit. If I had have done that as a rookie, I have been threatened to be fired. It was because I had a track record of someone who didn’t give away the farm. I was a good rep. I did my job. I had the autonomy to make decisions that people that weren’t performing didn’t have.
Good managers are going to see that and they are going to give it to you. They are going to give you what’s called rope, leeway, some tolerance. There are some famous examples here but I will let you read the first one.
Lawrence Taylor is largely thought to be the greatest defensive player in the history of football.
I’m a fan and favor of Bill Parcells but Parcells loved him.
Parcells loved him because he was a star. Everything he did turned to gold but he was an incredible athlete. He changed games all the time. Parcell is the Head Coach of the New York Giants. They have already won a Super Bowl by now. He’s got a young piss and vinegar fiery Defensive Coordinator named Bill Belichick, who has gone on to have a nice career himself.
Belichick went to Parcells at one point. This is after Lawrence Taylor’s already a star and said, “I’ve got a real problem here. We are real strict about meetings here with the Giants. If you are not five minutes early, you are late. Lawrence has been coming into my meetings 10 or 15 minutes late. It’s pretty consistent.”
He was expecting Parcells to give him some discipline that he should give to Taylor. Parcells’ answer was, “Why are you starting your meeting so early?” The message there is it’s Lawrence Taylor, what are you going to do? Bench him? Lawrence knew that, “What are you going to do? Are you going to bench me?” I never once heard of any report where people complained about Lawrence Taylor’s staying out late, partying, showing up late to meetings because on game day he was a savage and you couldn’t win without him. Teammates were like, “That’s Lawrence. That’s what he does. There are different rules for Lawrence Taylor because he does things that we can’t do on the field, and we are okay with it.”Every employee in business is a free agent all day, every day. They wake up, they’re a free agent, they’re on the market and anyone can call them at any time and offer them a lot more money than you are paying them and you can't do anything about it. Click To Tweet
My uncle used to live in New York City and somehow got into a cab most likely right after Lawrence Taylor. This was in the heyday when he was suspended because of cocaine use. He found Lawrence Taylor is paced up. It was his pay and there was a deduction or a docking for some kind of a suspension that he had. It was priceless.
You see this all the time with stars where they play by a little bit different set of rules. Michael Vick comes out that he’s running a dogfighting ring. If Michael Vick would have been the third-string linebacker, the 53rd guy in the lineup, that report would have come out with, “And the Falcons released him now,” but as it was, Atlanta took forever to release him. It was a long, drawn-out process where they stood by him as long as they could before they realized it was untenable. You tend to give more leeway tolerance to a real transcendent performer than other people until it starts to hurt them.
Two things here. One, there’s a 30 for 30 on Randy Moss. It’s called Rand University. He grew up in a small part of West Virginia. It’s the same thing as Michael Vick. He got into so many problems but he was forgiven because he was recruited to go to Notre Dame, then he went to Florida State and he got kicked off of there. He ended up somewhere else. He was a problem and got drafted 18th overall in the NFL draft, instead of probably 1st, 2nd or 3rd where he would have gone if he wasn’t a problem.
In that whole 30 for 30, what they talk about is this guy who was basically his best friend was equally as much of a screw up but was not quite as good of an athlete. He was like a double-A baseball player. He wasn’t a Hall of Famer in several sports. It’s because of it, his career got derailed at nineteen, and then he’s back in West Virginia.
That’s the same story with Vick. Vick was so good. As soon as he was out of prison there was a group of teams lining up to sign him because he was transcendent. I am not nearly as fast. I can’t throw the ball as far but I have always been a hard worker. I remember one day, I went to the gym in the middle of the workday. As I’m walking out, I bumped into my boss’s wife. My boss had a reputation to be a bit of a hard-ass. I’m like, “I shouldn’t have been at the gym.” I owned it.
I went up and saw him four hours later. He goes, “Before I could even finish the story because, Frank, the last thing I’m worried about with you is you put in your hours. When you get your gym time in is the least of my concerns.” He kept walking. That was a hard-ass who I was afraid of because I thought I was going to get screamed at but I had earned it. I had a whole different level of respect for that guy right after that interaction because he let me do my thing. It was one of the few times where I felt like, “Pretty cool.”
There’s a classic line in business, which is, “Ask for forgiveness, not for permission.” It’s a very dangerous piece of advice if you are not a star. If you are not a great performer and you are not confident in yourself, you probably should tow the line as long as you can. Stars tend to do that more often. I’m sure you were like that. I was definitely like that where I would be like, “I’m going to get in trouble for this but it’s going to work.” That second piece I said is important. “If you are going to ask for forgiveness and you just know you are going to get yelled at, it better work.”
You better be confident in your ability that when you go up to break rank and go outside of the lines a little bit, you better be confident in yourself that your decisions are going to work and it’s going to make sense because stars can get away with that. I feel like I’ve got away with it a lot in my career of saying, “Sorry. Here’s what I did. I probably should have checked with you.” They bitch at you a little bit then you move on and nothing is going to happen as long as you keep producing. If you are not a producer and you are doing that shit, that’s terrible advice to someone who’s not a producer to ask for forgiveness and not permission.
There’s another thing that’s worth talking about within this subject. Let’s say there’s a management change. You are the star and new people come in. You’ve got to realize, “I probably can’t pull some of the same crap I pulled before.” You’ve got to pull back a little bit and realize you have to self-regulate.
You have to demonstrate to the new leadership team that you are a star.
You’ve got to re-earn your star credentials before you go back.
“No one cares about the past. What have you done for this manager? The last manager, what did you do for this one?”
That happens a lot. You will get promoted. You will either get into a new job or another group of managers and you’ve got to re-earn. You can’t just show up on day one and start doing that stuff. You’ve got to earn it first. Those are the little things that you realize. In my life and my career, I felt I was a star in multiple places but I moved businesses, divisions and departments. You always better start as that humble person who isn’t a star because I was never Emmitt Smith.
When he changed teams, he was already Emmitt Smith. I was some dipshit that was in a new role. You’ve got to re-earn that. What happens is your reputation follows you and you can maybe spend a little bit less time in the humble spot or you can get into flourishing but those are the things that you must reestablish.
The fifth thing that you can give a star that is not paid is influence. Tom Brady with the Tampa Bay Bucs, the one thing he complained the most about with eighteen years of the Patriots is he got one game ball and had no input. His quote was, “They still treat me like a 22-year-old rookie. I have earned six Super Bowls. I have earned the right to have some ideas about how our offense should be run and how we should staff.” The Bucs have done a great job with this. He said, “I want to go get Antonio Brown.” That’s a pretty risky move for a company to do. Antonio Brown had already flamed out spectacularly at 3 or 4 different other organizations.You, as an employer, need to realize you’ve got talent and you have to stretch your management style to allow smart people. Click To Tweet
The Bucs were like, “We trust your judgment. You can handle it.” He said, “Give me Gronk.” They were like, “We will go sign him.” He has influenced that he didn’t feel he had over the type of people that were brought into the organization. Another football analogy on this is John Harbaugh was the Coach of the Baltimore Ravens. He had a leadership council.
The leaders that he had on there were pretty good. It was Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis. These are Hall of Fame defensive players. He would meet with them once a week. He would say, “Here’s what I’m thinking of doing. Here are some decisions that I’m struggling with.” He would give them input into things he was going to do with the team, whether, “Cut a player. Pick a player up.”
One thing I found interesting in this is the three of them couldn’t always agree with each other. All three would have a different idea and they would start arguing with each other. He would smile a little bit and be like, “My job is as easy as it sounds, is it?” That made his most vocal leaders on the team feel invested in the decisions, direction, and strategy of the team. He was not affording that to the backup right guard. He was affording that to his absolute stars, the guys that produced the most on Sundays, and it kept them more engaged than they would have been if he was just telling them what to do all the time.
With stars, if you give them autonomy and influence, you keep them engaged, make’s them credible. It’s like a snowball. It continues to gain momentum and is properly harnessed. Mike Alstott is most likely this, properly harnessed. It’s good for the team, organization, and for all of it. My guess is Michael Vick’s dogfighting wasn’t something that went viral within the Atlanta Falcons because it’s not going to have a happy ending for most of us.
The last thing you can give a star is more access to you. People want to be around the leadership team. We talked about this in movies. Leonardo DiCaprio is spending a lot more time with Tarantino when they are making a movie than someone who is an extra on the movie getting input. Leonardo by being around the leadership gets access, influence and input. That’s the same in business. If you’ve got a star, you are inviting them to more meetings. You are asking them to chew on things. They are spending more time with you. Stars value that, feeling important or like, “I might not be the owner. I might not be the last decision-maker but I have a lot of influence on it.”
There’s something else to it. To someone like Leonardo DiCaprio, he’s made a bunch of movies with Tarantino but he’s made a bunch of movies with Scorsese and James Cameron. He’s done multiple things with different incredible directors. What you start to realize is those guys are getting feedback from it. You get that access. Leonardo earns the access but the director is getting something from him but Leonardo is learning something from them, too.
There’s this trade-off. What happens if you are a star and you properly handle the stardom, your star treatment makes you better. The stars of the side of this lose access. Once you lose access, you start losing some of your edges, information, and things that you had that didn’t necessarily make you special but kept you special because access is a big part of that.
I played high school baseball with a guy named JJ Putz. He was insanely good. He was 6’4” or 6’5” in high school through the mid-‘90s. He had a 0.3 ERA in his junior year. He was an All-American starter.
For those of you that don’t know baseball, it’s someone who would score a run in every third game.
He gave up 3 or 4 earned runs the whole year. I’m not even sure those are real. He had multiple hitters. I was a catcher. It was fun. He was insane. He was one of those guys that you knew in high school, “This guy is going to be a Major Leaguer. He’s different. He’s much better than everyone else.” It’s unreal his athleticism, his arm, and his talent.
Our coach treated him like a star. He was the only guy who was allowed to call off pitches. He didn’t ask for it but he got some of these things. He was the only kid that didn’t play our mandatory varsity travel team. He wouldn’t play on his own travel team, which was a lot better than our travel team. It made him better.
This guy’s rule was always, “You either play on my travel team, you don’t play on varsity.” J came along and was like, “I play on my own travel team. Thanks.” He is still was on the varsity team. He was smart enough to do that. What I will say about this is J got a lot of the rope, leeway, tolerance, and access to the coach. At the end of practice, when we did extra running, J was there. When it was a hot day, I was a catcher, J showed up with two Gatorades. One for me.
He was one of those guys that didn’t want to be seen. He knew he was different and special. He didn’t act that way. It didn’t tear our team apart. He knew how to humbly take it. Our coach was good. When he would make us sprint, J was running. He would put him somewhere in there but it was fun for me to watch someone handle being a star and getting that treatment, and not tearing the team apart.
One of the amazing things about this story is Ian wasn’t a star. He never once brought J a Gatorade.
Never once. I was probably acting like a star, even though I wasn’t really good. I was already learning how to act like a star back then.
There are two stories here that I will tell. We had a kid that played basically varsity football with us for four years. He came in as an eighth-grader. He started as a ninth-grader. Literally, he just graduated from middle school, then he’s on the varsity team. The kid’s name was Dusty Wang. He still holds every record. Marjory Stoneman Douglas for rushing, attempts, everything.They’re a star for a reason. They make a lot more good decisions than bad ones. Click To Tweet
One of our friends from that team still goes to the events and he’s like, “You were on this team? Is Dusty Wang a joke?” That guy exists. Nobody can believe the guy’s name was Dusty Wang. Dusty Wang was a good high school player. His athletics took them as far as he could get, and that was it. It ran out. During the same stretch of time, we had another guy who played with us. His name was Mike Caruso. He was two years younger than me. He has the same age as my brother. Growing up, he was the best baseball player around.
He was the best baseball player as a freshman. He was good enough in high school that he got drafted 40th overall. He was in the Major’s by the time he was twenty. The problem with Caruso that was very different from the story Ian told with JJ Putz is at JJ built a work ethic and had alternatives. Caruso didn’t. He was good but he had never built the work ethic.
He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated with all the best shortstops of the era, Hall of Hamers, Edgar Renteria. If you are not a baseball guy, A Rod, and Derek Jeter, you have heard of these people. Who’s next? He was gone in two years. He played less than three full seasons in the Major’s and was incredibly talented because he didn’t do what JJ did, which was put in the work.
JJ played with the pros for fifteen years.
What you pivot to is star treatment properly enhanced or embraced by the star can turn into perennial good things, long-term careers but if not properly, it can also go wrong.
Where you can screw it up as a manager is treating someone differently in the office is one thing. Sometimes you start to get too close with a star outside of the office. Giving them access, being inclusive, you start hanging out with them on weekends because you are trying to go out of your way. My first boss lived in town. He was a single guy. He lived in Chicago. I was a great performer for him, and then we started to become friends. We became such good friends that I think I became a bit of a pain in the ass of an employee. I was difficult with him because I was close with him.
I saw him on the weekends. We went out drinking and went on Las Vegas trips. If something was going on that I didn’t like, I was obstinate with him. It was a pain in the ass. It never got to the point where it hurt the team too much but I always looked back on that and thought, “I’ve got to be careful getting too close with any star because I became difficult to manage.” I was always cognizant of not palling around too much with people that worked for me outside of the office, no matter how much of a star they were because I was afraid they would take advantage of me the way I took advantage of a very good boss who gave me a lot of good leeways.
I’m going to lump two together here and talk about two different things that are bad from stars. One of which is you start to treat teammates poorly. We have talked about Emmitt Smith and Allen Iverson. To our knowledge, they are great teammates. Mike Alstott got away with this because he treated everyone great. He was a great teammate.
Once you start to think you are bigger than the group, there comes this moment where the group is more powerful than the star and the star can only lose to start treatment. The star can lose it all. As a business owner from time to time, you have to look at that and be like, “This person needs to go. They have to go.”
In my history, I have had three or so people that all fit this bill. They thought of different reasons and circumstances but in every instance, there was something there. It’s like, “We’ve got to go on without them.” It’s never comfortable to go through. You never want to say goodbye to the star but sometimes you have to. Part of the star treatment or star of the book performance that you start to see with stars is they use the word my and I a lot. I do not say my or I. My last name was on the door of this company. I say, “Ours. We.” The only time I say my or I, is when something gets screwed up.
Most of the time, I didn’t screw it up. I know who did. I take ownership of that because I’m not selfish, and then we have a conversation privately. I remember when I was a kid working it outback in college. This guy came in. He was a good dude. I ended up becoming friends with him but he’s always like, “This is my knife. This is my store.” Everything was mine. I was like, “You are not the manager. The last guy was because he never did that.” “He made it feel like it was mine. I had more buy-in because of that.” This guy will come in and bark. Everyone tune the guy out because it wasn’t his, and we knew it.
We talked about all the things that you should give a star but the time to stop giving them all of those things is when it becomes clear that it’s this never-ending vortex that they want more. They need everyone to know they are the star and give them all the credit. You can’t give their teammates credit without them jumping in and cutting them off saying, “No. I did that.” When you start to get to that level, people resent them. What happens is you get this big drop in productivity from the rest of the team because the star is making everyone feel lousy. They start to resent you as the manager that you are not curbing that ego. You are not reigning it in. You are just feeding it by giving them all these extra advantages.
Sometimes you’ve got to cut a star off at the knees. In a meeting, if they lip off to you and say something, you need to humble them in front of everyone else to remind everyone, “I’m still in charge here and we will live without you,” because the truth is unless you are a weak company, no strong company dies because of star leaves.
At some point, if the star pushes you so much, “You are producing a lot. It’s great. Do you know what will happen? You will be gone and I will go find another star. At some point, someone will rise up and become my next star.” You have to be careful in paying attention to your behaviors as a leader and how you are managing this person are going to their heads so much that they can’t handle it. They can’t humble themselves and say, “I am appreciative of someone like Frank Cava giving me all these extra perks. I’m going to make sure that I make the rest of the team feel like they are the most important people because I have already given enough.”
There was something that when I was in high school. It didn’t happen at my high school. It happened in another one. They had a game they called the Has-Been Will-Bes. The has-beens are the kids that were graduating. The will-bes were the young kids. The young kids almost always won because they were hungry and wanted it. What you need to realize is that if you are a star in the NBA, you get old.
Tiger Woods does not have the back or the legs that he used to have. It’s harder to win because it was a bunch of young kids. That same thing happens. As a business owner, I’ve got to make sure I keep my fastball because someone else could leave and become a competition. Inside of an organization, you need to realize if you let it start getting to your head, someone else is going to charge because you weren’t always the star, even experts were beginners once.
What you start to realize is that you’ve got to put a whole team together. It’s not just a person. There is star treatment but at the same time, the team and those things work together. The last thing I will say is this. I will let you close it. The New York Giants were a very good team for years. The year the Patriots won 17-0, as the year after Tiki Barber retired.
He is a Hall of Fame-caliber player. I don’t think he’s in yet, but he’s on the cost. The saying was, “There’s addition through subtraction.” Tiki Barber wasn’t on the team the next year. They weren’t as good at running back but he was not known as a great teammate. That team rallied together and they won. That happens in sports, life, and business.No strong company dies because a star leaves. Click To Tweet
The example I will leave with is at their peaks is LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony was paid the exact same. They had similar contracts. One went to New York. The other one went to Miami around the same time. Both of them had immense talent and had all of the perks that we talked about from their organization. The difference is LeBron played the game in a way that made everyone better. He was a good passer. He got everyone the ball. He brought people up. He was all about winning. Carmelo was all about scoring. He was all about individual accolades, making the All-Star team, and how many points per game he could lead. He didn’t make his teammates better.
One organization gave all the perks to one star and the same perks went from another organization. At the end of the day, the Knicks looked silly for doing it because they didn’t get what they wanted out of it. Carmelo got everything he wanted out of it. The whole idea of giving all of these is to win more. If you are treating someone much differently, the expectation needs to be that the whole team is better because of it. You do treat someone a lot different if they get you more wins, make you more profitable and help you grow.
If they make the team worse, what are you doing it for? The organizations that gave LeBron everything looked smart. The Knicks looks silly for what they did. It was the same level of talent. It was just the wrong result that they’ve got out of it. I hope that I have convinced you that I deserve a raise for carrying this show. I feel like you should start treating me for the kind of person that I am. Eighty percent of our production comes from me. We are like 80/50 because I’m 50% of the people but I do 80% of the production.
What I would like to point out is you have acted like a star. You have complained about pay. You haven’t paid attention to my schedule. You had autonomy because you hadn’t followed the outline. I have to give you rope because if you don’t, I will be doing this alone. It’s good to see you.
- Star Wars – Past Episode