The Chicago Bulls of 1995-1996 were perhaps one of the best teams to ever play the game (to this date); the Bulls franchise won 6 NBA titles in the 1990s. They had fifteen players in their roster, but Michael Jordan was their indisputable superstar. After each game, journalists and fans chased after him in the Bulls’ locker room at United Center, his teammates were largely left alone.
That said, they were critical to his, and the team’s, success. It was Scottie Pippen who gave MJ the best assists and Dennis Rodman who got 2x more rebounds than Jordan. And of course Steve Kerr emerged as a 3-point specialist; in fact he owns the best 3-point percentage in NBA history at .454.
The Oprah Winfrey Show had a production team of a few hundred people. They worked tirelessly for 25 years and produced the highest-rated talk show in American TV history. Although they were the “best team in TV”, the world idolized Oprah; after all the show had her name. Without her team though, Oprah would not have been able to invite 28,000 guests and entertain ~350 audience members per show from 1986 till 2011.
Apple is the world’s most valuable brand and its iconic founder, Steve Jobs, is universally perceived as the creative genius behind building the world’s first mainstream home computer, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad and dozens more products.
But if it had not been for Woz, the Apple I and Apple II may have never been born. After all, Steve didn’t ever code at Apple. When Jobs came back to run Apple in the mid ‘90s, he considered Jony Ive to be his spiritual partner. It was Sir Jonathan who led the industrial design work for the iMac and the iPod products, whicpaved the wave for Apple’s rebirth as a consumer electronics and multimedia company with a market cap of hundreds of billions of dollars. Apple was also capable of hiring and retaining many tens of thousands of loyal employees worldwide, a well oiled machine.
So how can superstars and rookies collaborate harmoniously with each other on a team? Superstars have big egos and limited time to waste. Rookies have little experience and limited vision. But harmonious collaboration is possible, as was the case with the Chicago Bulls, The Oprah Show and has been the case at Apple for 16+ years.
In all sorts of winning teams, there is an “unspoken contract” between the superstars (or senior team members) and the rookies (or junior team members):
a. The junior folks are in it for the learning, the attribution and the opportunity to score huge wins early on in their career.
b. The senior folks are in it for executing their vision, the financial rewards and the power that comes with leading an organization. In some rare instances, superstars are in it for building their legacy and changing the world.
Whenever there is a breach of contract, the team dynamics get messed up; sometimes permanently. In some instances, junior folks have unrealistic expectations and feel that because they are doing all the *real* work, they are entitled to receive all the credit and are guaranteed future promotions. Junior team members normally excel whenever they work hard, have strong intellectual curiosity, take new initiatives and are prepared to learn from their mistakes.
In some other instances, senior folks who are in a weak position (internally) have to take all the credit for themselves and legitimately the junior folks feel disappointed. Surprisingly, yet frequently, some of the senior folks can simply be assholes to those supporting them.
Superstars have to drive the vision, inspire their teammates and most importantly lead by example. Steve Jobs, according to Walter Isaacson’s biography, was the most proud of “Apple itself, which Jobs considered his greatest creation, a place where imagination was nurtured, applied, and executed in ways so creative that it became the most valuable company on earth.”
When Oprah Winfrey moved to LA to launch OWN she took 50 of her production staff with, employees who had spent most of their career in Chicago. I am sure that they received a ton of exciting job opportunities closer to home, yet decided to stay loyal and follow their long-time leader.
Toni Kukoc was one of Europe’s best basketball players in the late 80s and early 90s; he led a team that won the prestigious Euroleague title three times in a row. But he decided to become a small fish in a large pond when he transferred to the Chicago Bulls in 1993 in order to play with Air Michael.
Unfortunately for Toni, Jordan retired temporarily in 1993, but then came back in 1995 to lead the Bulls in their second three-peat while Toni was still there. Kukoc was always coming from the bench, but was consistently the team’s third scorer after MJ and Pippen.
Michael Jordan, recognizing Pippen’s work and unselfishness, famously said: “Scottie Pippen, he’s my guy. I love him like a brother. He pushed me to be the best basketball player every day in practice. And I pushed him to be the best Scottie Pippen he could be.” Not a surprise that when the Chicago Bulls decided to retire Scottie Pippen’s No. 33 jersey, they hang it next to Jordan’s legendary No. 23.