How to cultivate rockstars and keep them in your team

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I’m truly in awe and inspired by a young rising star who said to me:

I would not be in marketing if you had not been my mentor […] and it has been the foundation of my career since that moment forward


Her name is Savannah Peterson (@SavIsSavvy) and she heads up communications and marketing for D2M, a design firm in San Francisco and recently gave a lecture at Stanford about her amazing success with her Kickstarter campaign for @instacube (preso below).

I met Savannah while she was a college student at UW and she interned for a project I was managing at the Center for Communication & Civic Communication. She was unconventional, fiery and full of energy… and opinions. I was warned about her energy and potential difficulties. I have met people like Savannah before, and to be honest, they are a pain in the butt. I know of companies and managers that will part ways with people like Savannah because they are not ‘yes, ma’am’ and are ‘too risky’, maybe not ‘client-presentable’. Not to mention the time that they require to groom. I think any talent manager out there would agree that rockstars are not for the faint-of-heart.

But here’s the thing. Extraordinary people like Savannah, don’t usually fit the little carved out plan we have. Nor they will agree with you, like ever. And just because they are young and inexperienced doesn’t mean they don’t have a point or can perform way beyond the typical responsibilities that you would give them. In fact, IMO, their rebelliousness has more to do with not being challenged enough than a true desire to disrupt.

What these rockstars need is to find the environment and the opportunity to experiment and fail, because they WILL fail. But unlike most people, they will recover faster and learn and then –watch out– you will be left in the dust of their success.

So if you are lucky enough to find a Savannah in your career and want to keep them in your team, invest the time… don’t get all caught up in the usual corporate pathway to ‘develop’ them by giving them BS feedback like, “you need to be more strategic.” Give them meaningful challenges, look for opportunities where they can truly explore their strengths (forget about their weaknesses, those are overrated and will be overshadowed with the awesomeness) and be their champion for life, not just the job. And most importantly, let them change you (and your work).

Rockstars rock things. They are meant to  challenge the status quo and drive change. And isn’t that what all the business and leadership literature keeps yapping about?

In summary, here are THE* seven steps to cultivate rockstars:

  1. Pay ATTENTION to your people. Some have true ninja powers hidden!

  2. Get to know what they aspire to do in LIFE. Not just the job. And be their champion to get there.

  3. Challenge them. Give them something to do WAY BEYOND what you think they can do.

  4. Let them fail and connect. Don’t say ‘told ya’ just connect and listen to their learning (you’ll learn too).

  5. Avoid BS feedback. Have a meaningful discussion about whatever is going on and be sincere about your opinions.

  6. SHARE your own lessons and failures with them. They will respect you more if they can see you have struggled and learned too.

  7. Do whatever you can to alter the typical path in your organization to give way to your budding rockstar. If you are unable to give them the space/challenge they need you will lose them!

*Yes, THE.