Should We Eliminate The “A Player” Trope?

A recent Forbes publication calls into question the offhand assignment of “A Player” labels.

On the heels of my article on how organizations handcuff their talent (link here); and my use of the “A Player” meme in that article to boot, I find an article that calls the entire “A Player” meme into question.

And I like it.

In Forbes, Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta published an article titled Silicon Valley Mythbusting: Rethinking The Concept of ‘A’ Players.  In this article, Mehta dives into some of the structure- and leadership-oriented issues related to talent; and as the title suggests, calls into question whether the “A Player” label is actually a transferable thing.

Here’s your link.

The operative quote from the article is this:

As a leader, you get paid a lot to do your job. It is your responsibility to find the right people for the right roles with the right manager. It is also your responsibility to coax the best performance out of your team, and using terms like “A Player” does them a disservice. On the other hand, you can build your team into the best they can be, both together and individually: then you’d have an “A Team.”

Mehta’s article outlines how a so-called A-Player in one company could very well be a failure in another.  He brings it down to fit within company culture, fit within role, and fit with management.

So what? 

Mehta’s analysis (and mine in my handcuff article) is a take off on the old nature vs. nurture debate.  To be clear, it is not an appeal to the mindset of “we are all the same.”  I don’t see where Mehta is saying that all players are the same; but rather that it’s very hard to read talent from a single situation (great or otherwise).

It brings up questions like:

Is talent really situational? (I’d argue, yes)

Does a talented “A Player” really have the passport to be an A Player anywhere, or has the A Player really been shrewd (or lucky) about the factors that Mehta outlines (again, company, role, management)? (I think it’s a little bit of both)

Do we do a disservice to our entire talent base, as Mehta suggests, by labeling some people “A Players?” (In my opinion, maybe…especially if the culture allows that an “A” grade is untested after it is conferred.)

Finally, shouldn’t we be focused, as leaders, on building the highest performing team and not the team filled with the highest talent individuals?  (Yes, yes, yes…A thousand times)

Parting thought:

I have had the privilege of working alongside senior executives who have the talent to fit right in across any number of corporate cultures and leadership positions.  I have also witnessed under-talented and opportunistic executives who by happenstance, good luck, obsequiousness,  or sharp elbows found their only possible senior executive position in the entire world.

Knowing both, I can say that situation matters.

Senior leaders should be humble enough to assess others’ talent across time, company, and role.  Nick Mehta is onto something.

What do you think?


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