Motivation Diversity – Rockstars and Superstars


Diversity is Critical in Many Forms

In the modern world, diversity is important.  Ask any biologist and they will tell you one of the key factors of a hospitable environment for life is diversity.   Genetic diversity is one of the key factors for the success of a species.  If a particular environment doesn’t have enough genes dispersed within a species, that species’ growth will become stagnant, and perhaps non-existent. 

In the business world, diversity is just as important.  Diversity comes in many forms in the professional environment.   While diversity in ethnicity, gender, religious, and cultural background is certainly important, that is not the focus of this post.  An often overlooked aspect of diversity is what we’ll call Motivation Diversity.   Motivation Diversity has to do with segmenting your team members into two distinct categories – Rockstars and Superstars.

Kim Scott’s Radical Candor provides a great summary of why both are important.   “To keep a team cohesive, you need both rockstars and superstars.  Rockstars are solid like a rock…they’ll become the people you rely most on…Superstars need to be challenged and given new opportunities to grow constantly.”   

The Rockstar

The Rockstar is simply known as The Reliable One.  You can often count on a Rockstar in the same way you can count on the sun rising the next day.  Some might actually think of Rockstars as a bit boring.  They probably eat the same lunch every day and might spend the weekend reading a book  instead of attending a popular concert.  However, the defining traits of a Rockstar aren’t  what they do with their spare time or what they eat. It’s what motivates a Rockstar that is important.

Consistency is the name of their game and their primary motivation is to show up and do a good job, avoid chaos, and ultimately be confident that the work was done well.  Rockstars enjoy growing and improving their skills at a natural, steady pace.  Their performance tends to suffer when they are overloaded, placed in a chaotic or constantly changing environment, or overlooked in their contributions (which can be easy to do).

Traits of a Rockstar


  • Knowing what is ahead and why. 
  • Slow, steady progress.
  • Recognition, return of loyalty.
  • Fully completing the job at hand. 
  • Teamwork and accomplishing things together.


  • Chaos, uncertainty. 
  • Completely unfamiliar job roles or challenges. 
  • Being overloaded or unbalanced workload. 


  • Reliability.  They often get the things done others don’t want to do. 
  • Consistency.  You know exactly what you will get from them. 
  • Quality.  Rockstars often take things from good enough to great.   

The Superstar

You can identify a Superstar rather quickly. They are the person willing to wear any hat, at any time, and simply do whatever it takes to get the job done. They can essentially move mountains and make it seem like it was nothing more than a rock to push aside. If you were a startup, you would want your whole team to be nothing but Superstars.  Superstars like change, they embrace the chaos of a new challenge or unfamiliar territory.  They often get bored when things become the status quo and disengage or perhaps worse, go rogue.   They move at an extremely quick pace and don’t often care to look back to see if others catch up.  They relish being in the spotlight and achieving significant wins for themselves and subsequently the organization.  They are inherently, quite different from a Rockstar.


  • Being out in front, separating themselves by the results they achieve. 
  • Constant change and new challenges.
  • Personal growth as a result of their accomplishments. 
  • Control, they need to feel responsible for their results. 


  • Conformity or repeatedly doing consistent tasks.
  • Group decision making or discussion. 
  • Leading, nurturing or growing others with seemingly lesser skill sets. 
  • Details, B’s get degrees is usually their motto so they can move on to the next thing. 


  • Big wins, when you need something done big and fast, they get it done. 
  • New boundaries.  When in unfamiliar territory or stagnant, they are the disruptor to set a new trajectory. 

Rockstars and Superstars in the Wild

The balance of having Rockstars and Superstars within the business changes as the business matures.  As stated earlier, Superstars can be critical to the early stages of a business to build momentum and survive the many ups and downs while trying to build from the ground up.  They can single handedly take on the many challenges a startup faces such as securing funding, landing deals, and getting a product or service launched in time.

However, as a business starts to grow, the results of the Superstar becomes more of a double edged sword. Yes, they take a lot off of everyone’s plates, but they also keep others blind to potentially systemic issues within the organization.  They are often so dynamic and good at racking up wins that it appears everything is running smoothly with just them in place.

A Superstar enjoys autonomy, however, this tends to leave a role extremely dependent upon them being in place 24/7/365.  They aren’t the greatest at training and guiding others to fill the big shoes they created.  A Superstar is the team member that makes others scared when they go on vacation.  This is because they often operate in a vacuum, as they are so focused, and aren’t always the best at communication with others.

Rockstars are great at coming in and filling the voids that Superstars created in their path to a  big achievement.  They are the detail oriented and consistent tacticians that Superstars don’t want any part of.   Superstars take a strategy or initiative to 70-80% and then the Rockstars ensure the rest gets finished off right.  They are also more inclined to set up the systems and processes to ensure things operate consistently and effectively for the future.

Creating Rockstar and Superstar Diversity


So what’s the best way to solve this conundrum? The first key is to identify your Superstars and Rockstars and what role they currently play within the business.  Hopefully, simply by being aware, you are now able to tell the difference between a Rockstar and a Superstar. It will also be good to start integrating how to identify between the two types within your interview process.  Having an inventory of who your Rockstars and Superstars are will serve well in the next step to ensuring each type is in the right role. 


As a company grows,process, consistency, and order become more necessary. Great opportunities for Superstars are in situations where the roadmap to solve is chaotic and uncertain. This is where a Superstar can thrive, and once that particular opportunity is solved, they can be backfilled or moved on to the next challenge by the Rockstars.  Activities that are good for Superstarsinclude negotiating big sales or new deals, launching a new product or service, or disrupting a stagnant area of the business

Rockstars are essential and effective in all the places  in the business Superstars are not needed.  If you want to build a truly strong and capable organization, Rockstars are the glue to hold it together.  While certain industries can survive on a pure Superstar basis, (think heavy sales oriented companies, law offices, or other individualized professions) for most organizations the ratio of Rockstars to Superstars should be relatively high.


Once you believe you have your Rockstars and Superstars in the right place, the next step is to continually evaluate if the balance is correct.   As a Superstar nears completion of a particular initiative, it may be time to move them along and slide the  Rockstars in place.  Are your Rockstars and Superstars working well together.  Sometimes the working relationship between the two can be very beneficial and sometimes it can be like fire and gasoline.   Rockstars can become upset and disengaged if they feel like they are constantly cleaning up after a Superstar.  Similarly, Superstars can become agitated if they feel Rockstars are too resistant to their ideas or slow to make changes.  Constantly evaluating the Rockstar and Superstar tension will allow people to work at their highest level of potential and avoid possible issues.

Final Note

Rockstars aren’t better than Superstars and vice versa.   They are both critical to the long term success of the business.   Keeping them happy requires leadership that  recognizes the team for who they are and keeps them in the places most suitable for their success.  Add Motivation Diversity to your team and you’ll be pleased with the results.

So go be a Rockstar.  Or a Superstar. Either way, just be you.

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