Superstar or Has Been? | Career Tips to Stay On Top

The rush is in the reaching. Ask any athlete whose career is on the rise. Every day is about putting it all out there for the team, the fans, and the games they love. Winning is the driver, the measure of their contribution and achievement.

Their personal value rises when they: 

  • win a championship
  • get selected for the All-Star Team
  • receive Most Valuable Player (MVP) honors 

There’s nothing quite like attaining superstar status, especially in our careers. It’s exciting, often representing the reward for years of struggle and hard work. 

The moment we’re tapped as “best” is when our career life changes. 

The meaning of the moment 

When we’re recognized, we’re elated. We bask in the: 

  • Public recognition of our value
  • Upcoming opportunities to showcase our talents
  • Access to company leaders
  • Deference and/or congratulations from our coworkers 

Our moment passes quickly, though, just like the All-Star Game or that “I’m going to Disney World” TV shot. What follows are new challenges. 

At work superstars are usually considered “comers“—high potential performers and/or  succession plan designees. They’re the company’s MVPs. 

Their status is generally achieved through performance results over time and the endorsement of the leadership, not necessarily in equal measure. 

The bottom line: Someone thinks you have “it” and the company wants to put “it” to the test and benefit from the outcome. 

Sustaining momentum 

Superstar status raises your bar. When a broader audience starts paying attention to you, there’s pressure to perform at a higher level.

 Superstar moments launch new expectations for more and better performance like: 

  • Delivering significant outcomes on more complex projects
  • Assuming greater levels of authority and responsibility
  • Demonstrating tolerance for stress and the ability to perform under fire
  • Engaging effectively with powerful influencers
  • Negotiating with high profile customers or political officials 

You know what happens in sports: Last year’s MVP needs to increase on-field performance or hear about how s/he has declined. This year’s baseball All Star better hit well during the second half of the season or be questioned. 

Once we’re designated as a high potential player at work, if we don’t live up to expectations, we can fall out of favor and see our careers go downhill.

Avoiding “has been-ship” 

It’s difficult to get recognized as a top performer and even harder to sustain it.

In our jobs, success measures combine the objective and the subjective, the concrete and the abstract. But they count just as much as batting averages or yards per carry. 

To keep your superstar status up, these actions are essential: 

Remain relevant—Keep your knowledge, skills, and experiences ahead of the curve by staying up on innovation, politics, economic issues, and industry challenges; Be the voice of “what’s coming”

Maintain strong connections—Leverage is essential; Build, tighten, and expand your relationships in every direction, both inside and outside your company; Create allies and be one

Over-deliver—Make sure the results you and/or your department produce exceed expectations without exceeding costs, always improving the process

Engage employees—The ability to build and sustain a positive, can-do group of employees, engaged in their work, performing professionally, with little drama, and without giving away the store cements your value

Stay in the mix—Be there. Make sure you have a seat at the table. It helps to be likeable, a source of proper levity, and a voice of reason. When decisions don’t feel right to others unless you’ve been consulted, that’s a plus.

 Keep a clear head

 The rarefied air of superstardom at work can muddle our thinking unless we’re careful. Being recognized is important and when we get it, we should enjoy and value it. Our next moves, though, need to be informed and steady. Getting to the top is only the first step. Staying there is often the bigger one. Go for it! 

Photo of Phillies 2011 All-Star pitcher, Cliff Lee, from Matthew Straubmuller via Flickr