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Too much of a good thing: 5 tips for managing star-performer egos on sport’s biggest stage

Dr Kwame Agyemang

Posted: June 12, 2014

Tagged: goals / management / players / teams

How to manage workplace egos is one of the most difficult tasks a manager must take into consideration. Managers are faced with an interesting dilemma because you want these types of people on your team, given that they are typically self-driven, have a strong desire to win, and bring the best out of teammates. So, perhaps encompassing one or two star performers with big egos is not that big of an issue. However, what if a manager assembles a team comprised of numerous star-performers who have strong egos? In this situation, the manager has essentially gathered a group who are accustomed to being THE “top dog”. Every four years, we become witnesses as to how national team managers manage such a situation as they prepare and play in the World Cup.

Oftentimes, one of the prerequisites for being selected for such a grandiose occasion is playing regularly for one’s club team. Thus, national teams at the World Cup regularly contain a collection of “celebrity” footballers who play big roles for their club teams. A number of examples exist for this year’s rendition of the World Cup, as teams such as Spain, the Netherlands, Cote d’Ivoire, Germany, and Brazil contain players commanding huge salaries and excessive amounts in transfer fees.

These star-performers are not the only ones with huge egos, however. The World Cup presents a platform for less-known players to establish themselves as great talents, thereby potentially allowing them to increase their earning potential at their current club or another club that wishes to pay a transfer fee for their services. As a manager, how do you handle an existing group of star-performing egos and those trying to prove themselves?

Easier said than done, the answer is tactfully getting players to place the team mission above their own individual goals. Based on my observations of world-class managers (e.g., Vicente del Bosque) over the years, consider the points below regarding how they managed team egos:

-Team first. As aforementioned, a manager must verbalize the importance of the team. An excellent example of star-talent coming together is the NBA’s Miami Heat. The “Big 3” (i.e., Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh) all sacrificed for the betterment of the team. As an illustration, both Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade play lesser roles than what they did before the team was assembled. Since coming together, though, they have appeared in four consecutive NBA finals, winning two in the process. Miami’s head coach has stressed a team ethic, and as a result, they now play as a team (on most occasions) instead of a collection of individual stars.

-Goal-oriented. To ensure motivation, a manager must set goals. Star-performers, especially those who have amassed numerous accomplishments, need new challenges for motivation. Specifically, they need to set goals that the team and players have not achieved. For instance, challenge a player to score more goals than they did in a previous tournament. Challenge the team to keep more clean sheets, score more goals, and provide more assists.

-Massage ego, while keeping them accountable. Star-performers usually do not mind hearing others speak of their great talents. This is okay as long as the manager is prepared to chastise the player due to inconsistency or other feats that do not play into the team ethic. This is a balancing game. Do not employ one more than the other.

-Foster a competitive environment. Related to the point above, nothing will motivate a player more than competing with someone who plays their same position. In the football context, there are only 11 starting spots available. A manager should promote healthy rivalry at every position to get the very best out of each individual. Sure, there will be team members who do not play as much as they would have liked. However, even these players will be better prepared in the case that they enter a game. This is due to the meticulous preparation and competitive environment.

-Give them freedom but check them. My last point recommends that managers allow their players to express themselves. While the goal is to win, one must not forget the “fun” aspect. After all, it IS called “the beautiful game”.  Similar to point three, though, a manager must strike a balance between allowing freedom and permitting too much freedom. Therefore, a manager should not be afraid to put a player in check. That is, let them know who is boss…put them in their place! In the past, coaches have excluded star-performers because of their prima donna egos. This is a tactic a manager should always have in their pocket to distinguish manager vs. player. Alternatively, a manager could invite a player but bench them, essentially leaving the player to “cut a frustrated figure” on the bench!

About Dr. Kwame Agyemang

Dr. Kwame Agyemang is an Assistant Professor at Louisiana State University. His research focuses on celebrity, specifically the creation of celebrity and the influence of celebrity (i.e., commercially and socially). He is particularly interested in studying celebrity in the context of creative industries such as sport, music, movies and fashion. You may follow him on Twitter (@KwameDwase) or visit his personal website (http://kwameagyemang.com).