We know they are there in every organization; we just don't know what to do with them!
The other day my colleague came to up me and posed a question "What happens to a star engineer in a company?" Taming my ego, I replied "Superstar, what else!". To that he said "Superstar and then what?" By now I knew that was a trick question for which he already had a well thought answer. Without wasting much time, I asked him to unravel his secret. He beautifully drew parallel with stars in the galaxy to those in an organization. His theory was "Every star has a life time before he or she becomes a black hole".
Small stars proceed to become neutron stars, extremely dense items about the size of a Manhattan that retain most of the mass of the original star. Unlike black holes, neutron stars are not dense enough to restrain light. Larger original stars become black holes -- the weirdest of the weird! [Source - The five-minute guide to black holes]
I totally agree with black hole phenomenon looming at large in teams. They are very easy to identify and are most probably your senior staff sucking up all resources to produce anything but significant. You can find them bragging about their big blasts (successful projects) from past. The best thing would be to fire them. It is easier said than done. But, I don't have a more amicable solution at this moment.
For those who wonder what it takes to become a star engineer, here is a very well researched and written article "How to be a star engineer". According to Robert Kelley star engineers are made not born. He came up with nine interlocking work strategies on becoming a star engineer. I don't subscribe to all but nevertheless; I have extracted his work and added a few cents of my own.
Stars create a work environment that values small initiatives, as they believe whopper initiatives tend to follow a long string of lesser efforts.
I remember my colleague providing us effective solutions putting his networking skills to task. With so much information overload its more about finding the right answer. Many hackers like me, averse to networking can get quality answers from experts on Google answers.
For wannabe star networkers, here is some advice:
Star networking entails building, maintaining, and operating within a group of experts who share knowledge for mutual benefit. Stars' networks differ from typical workers' networks in two important respects. They have the right people in them, and they are faster. Better-connected and faster networks allow the stars to turbo-charge their productivity, so that they outpace the average performers, who might have similar talent, but do it alone.
Increase your own value while creating more opportunities for your company. To me it sounded more like personal branding. Check out the e-books written by Rajesh Shetty on personal branding and 25 ways to distinguish yourself.
Getting the big picture
Towards the other end of myopic vision there is tunnel vision. As engineers we get so engrossed in technology that we tend to forget the actual users. We always want to work with cool tools and the next technology fad. These cool projects are notoriously known as resume driven projects;)
Average performers see the world from their viewpoint only and keep pushing the same points over and over again. Stars, in contrast, step outside their own viewpoint and adopt a variety of perspectives: "How do my customers think about this? What do my competitors think? How about my colleagues? What about top management or the shareholders?" Because they can evaluate the relative importance of a variety of viewpoints, they are able to improve on the product or develop better solutions to problems.
The simplest and easiest, yet least attempted method of getting bigger picture is talking to your customer;)
The right kind of followership
They are actively engaged in helping the organization (and usually the leader) succeed, while exercising independent, critical judgment about what needs to be done and how to do it.
Dilbert comics would have gone out of business if everybody subscribed to the above thought;)
Teamwork as joint ownership of a project
Star producers see it as a complex series of skills that involve taking joint "ownership" of goal-setting, group commitments, work activities, schedules, and group accomplishments. It also means being a positive contributor to the group's dynamics--helping everyone feel part of the team, dealing with conflict, and assisting others in solving problems.
On the contrary what is happening is engineers work as individual contributors always wanting to score over one and another. Healthy internal competition is good but it should compliment the overall development effort.
Star performers view leadership as a work strategy that builds on expertise and influence to convince a group of people to unite on a substantial task. The undertaking can involve a range of efforts--helping the group create a clear vision of where they want to go along with the high commitment and trust necessary to get there; finding the resources to accomplish the task; and shepherding the project to successful completion.
Big Ls are much too focused on their own ideas, their own work styles, their own goals. Small-l leaders know they need to take into account the needs, skills, aspirations, and power of their co-workers on a project or team.
Leadership must emphasize on meritocracy and leverage upon uniqueness of engineers rather than stereotyping them as identical code generating machines.
Average performers focus overly on ingratiating themselves as the surest way to get ahead in the workplace. They also pay obsessive attention to office politics or patronizingly ignore it. Star producers know that any large organization has legitimate competing interests. Organizational savvy enables them to steer their way amid these clashes, to promote cooperation, address conflicts, and get things done. It can involve expertise in managing individual or group dynamics, understanding when to avoid conflicts and when to meet them head on, and knowing how to make allies out of potential enemies.
Show and tell
Average performers think Show-and-Tell means getting noticed by upper management through slick presentations, long-winded memos, and public displays of affection for their own work. They focus primarily on their image and their message, not on the audience. Star producers use a series of skills involving selecting which information to pass on to which others and developing the most effective, user-friendly format for reaching and persuading a specific audience. At its highest level, Show-and-Tell involves selecting either the right message for a particular audience or the right audience for the particular message.
Let me sum up by saying "Long lasting stars constantly reinvent themselves"