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rockstars vs superstars
Dani Matthews23/02/2024 1:58:10 PM3 min read

celebrating the organisational backbone

I was recently reading Messi Rules by Simon Mugford with our soccer obsessed seven-year-old son. In the book there is a section comparing Messi and Ronaldo with their number of achievement awards including the prestigious Ballon d'Or. 

In conversation with my husband I was curious why goal keepers or defenders rarely seem to win the Ballon d’Or? He shared it’s a popularity award for high goal scoring strikers and midfielders! It made me think about all the great goal keepers and defenders working hard to prevent the goals from to opposing team and players setting up the front players for success? 

Reflecting on organisations and how sales stars are often rewarded with high commissions and reward trips whilst other roles, often working longer hours with less role excitement, get less recognition.  

In a previous role, I experienced the thrill of being rewarded a sales award, ‘Winner’s Circle’ trip with a plus one, to Sanya in China. At the time I felt bad that my team members who supported me in achieving this success were back at the office keeping everything ticking along. It was an amazing experience which I'm really grateful for.

Star strikers or sales stars are key to winning the game or hitting those revenue targets, yet, without a strong support team, or backbone, they won’t be able to perform sustainability. 

what the experts say  

Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, previously featured in an Abundium Masterclass, talks about rockstars and superstars. Rockstars are the reliable high performing “rocks” of your team who are interested in doing their job well and not always interested in additional responsibility. My husband is an example of a rockstar. He performs his job reliably and well, yet isn’t interested in more responsibility and dedicates his energy to other passions outside of work including athletic competing and coaching.  

'Confidence doesn't always equal competence.' Adam Grant

Superstars, on the other hand are ambitious and always looking to stretch themselves and for the next big challenge. They push boundaries, challenge the status quo, and have a steep career trajectory. 

The message from Kim is that indeed we need both rockstars and superstars to build teams that help an organisation thrive. She also notes the roles are fluid and you can change from one to the other at different phases of your career.  

Wharton Professor Adam Grant who was live in Sydney this week calls for more humble givers to be elevated into leadership roles. He shared 'confidence doesn’t always equal competence.’ It's worth listening to his recent podcast interview on Diary of a CEO. 

Dr Ruth Gotian, who joined us in our February Abundium Masterclass, shared research about 4 Things High Performers Do Differently; 1)

  1. Tap into intrinsic motivation.
  2. Get comfortable with failure.
  3. Reinforce their foundation.
  4. Become a lifelong learner. 

She shared they are humble and BOLD! 

so, what for multinationals? 

From my own career experience and with a unique insight of over 100 multinationals in the region, I see superstars being acknowledged and celebrated more than rockstars.  

Some ideas to help celebrate the rockstars in your organisation: 

  • Conduct a social network analysis to see how work really gets done in your organisation versus the formal hierarchy and see who your keys nodes are. When I was at IECL we partnered with Qantas on a ‘Connected Leader’ program to help accelerate their transformation. We discovered that one of their floormen, named Elvis was a key trusted node in the network who people went to for information. Elvis was invited by the leadership team to be a culture change champion along with other key nodes to help drive culture change on steroids! Check out the AFR article here.  
  • Take the time to send a message of gratitude / a thoughtful gift to your rockstars who may be EAs, project managers, finance, HR, legal, IT and operations managers. 
  • Rethink individual sales awards to reward the whole team involved with the success.  
  • Share employee awards recognising those who have achieved something beyond the numbers, for example years of service, selfless contribution, and outstanding performance in their role.  
  • Team up a rockstar with a superstar for impact and provide joint recognition for their achievements 

We would love to hear what are you doing or what you could do to celebrate your organisational. 

We'd like to inspire a movement to help celebrate the often-unsung heroes of organisations! #celebratethebackbone 

One positive of the Covid 19 pandemic was the celebration of the frontline workers including millions of people in the UK, Clapping for Carers, to show their support for frontline health and social care workers in the first national lockdown. 

Edited by our wonderful COO Elbrie, an integral part of our Abundium organisational backbone. 


Dani Matthews

Dani Matthews, Co-Founder & Chief Impact Officer at Abundium, leads our impact initiatives with and for our multinational and not-for-profit community to tenfold leadership impact for an abundant world. Driven, compassionate and socially minded, Dani is on a mission to ‘be the change’ and help inspire positive impact including the transition to net zero in this critical decade of action. She recently completed a Cambridge University Business and Climate Change: Towards Net Zero Emissions short course and leads a cross-industry ‘Climate Warriors’ community amongst many other initiatives. Dani was recently honoured as an Adjunct Associate Professor (Industry) @ UTS Business School and is excited for our "Leading Strategic Action on Climate and Sustainability" Short Course collaboration.