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A-player problems


Disciplines > Human Resources > Performance Management > A-player problems

Fuelling the fire | Characteristic problems | See also


Managing A-players is not an easy task as they can easily go off course - and at the speed they travel it can take them a long way from where they should be.

Fuelling the fire

There is a fuel that drives A-players and it is often rooted in early problems in their lives.

Early denial of recognition

A-player are sometimes well-adjusted, but mostly, there have deep troubles that drive their performance. Many need to be stroked and reassured that they are the best, possibly stemming from a demanding parent where the key message was 'you can do better'. The A-player mentality may also stem from bullying and downplaying by childhood peers, perhaps because they were intelligent and hard-working, or perhaps because they were different in some way, from being shorter to having red hair -- in the child's world, where being 'in the gang' can be so terribly important, it takes very little to be mercilessly picked on.

Effectively, they are thwarted in their search for attachment that develops a sense of belonging and recognition that provides esteem.

Repeating exhortation

Children have little resilience or other ways of handling external pressures and easily fall prey to emotional complexes and neuroses. An inner voice may take on the parent or bully role, endlessly repeating the exhortation or jibe that spurs the person on without end.

'I must do better' or 'I'll show them' thus becomes regular self-talk. The problem is that whatever the A-player does, they do not feel that they have achieved their goal as the talk repeats itself. They constantly seek recognition of their achievement, but somehow whilst praise gives them much-needed respite, it is temporary as the inner voice leads them to not really believing the the praise.

The pattern thus repeats with them trying harder each time to reach an unattainable goal that is always beyond their grasp.

Characteristic problems

Insecure over-achievers

Berglas, Steven (2006) describes how Ron Daniel, former McKinsey MD said 'We look to hire people who are first, very smart; second insecure and thus driven by their insecurity; and third, competitive.'

In other words, many A-players are insecure over-achievers. They need and seek praise but it is never enough, so they just keep on trying.

No boundaries, diffuse focus

A classic sign of the over-achieving A-player is that they never say no. Whatever work they are given, they somehow manage to get it done. Their delivery is also beyond the boundaries of what might be expected and a request for a little work may result in a deep and perceptive study that took them all weekend.

A result of this is that they may well not be delivering the best value to their employer as they expend effort on keeping everyone happy and delivering beyond the 'best value' point.

Demanding narcissists

Whether by dysfunction or function, A-players can be or become narcissists who live on praise and who put themselves above others.

Failing to bond with their 'inferiors', they gain limited loyalty. Hostility from those below them may also spread as their juniors gossip and show the A-play to have limited leadership and management skills.

Secure superiors, limited progress

A-players can also be relatively secure and well-adjusted, but their higher performance level still may lead them to see others as inferior. A-players often prefer the company of other A-players. When they socialize with others, they are often aloof and distant. Even when they are tolerant, they lack the collegiality and charisma that draws people to them.

This self-imposed isolation can thus result in them failing to develop social and leadership skills that prevents them from advancing within a company hierarchy.

As managers, they may set their people the same high and unachievable standards that they set for themselves. This can lead to burned out and disaffected juniors who, despite having real skill and good achievements, eventually give up and leave.

See also

Managing A-players

Berglas, Steven (2006), How to Keep A PLAYERS Productive. Harvard Business Review, September 2006, pp.104-112

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