Recruit Stars — Not Divas

February 5, 2013 /Forbes/ – Congratulations! You just made a great hire: a charismatic, sought-after name with a reputation for conquering intractable problems, multiple degrees from the best schools, and a pattern of accomplishment at previous jobs.

But are you sure that you hired a star, and not a diva?

The differences can be hard to spot. Stars work hard, but so do divas. Stars can become almost obsessively consumed by a passion for their work – divas, too. And stars show up in the morning with a brilliant solution to the problem you threw at them the night before; divas, though maddening, can also be the most creative person in the room.

Yes, it’s hard to tell if a young Terrell Owens will turn into the next Jerry Rice or just another, well, Terrell Owens. Just look at all the first-round picks that ended up on the bench, and the no names that led a march to the Super Bowl.

When bringing on high-potential hires, you may not know right away whether you’ve drafted a star or a diva. But I’ve found 3 “tells” that may help you figure it out – ideally sooner rather than later:

1) Maxing out the credit: One of the toughest days in my career was parting with someone I’d thought was a huge star, until success brought out his inner diva. Suddenly he stopped spending his time problem solving and started using it to soak up credit and trumpet his contributions.

Stars do the opposite; when the klieg lights go on, they take a brief bow before pointing gratefully to the folks behind them. Divas prefer to take center stage and wave to the cameras.

2) The iron fist: One diva I knew told young interns slaving over a weekend project that, if their work wasn’t ready by Monday morning, they’d not only be out of a job, but they’d “never work again!”

Ruling by fear is the hallmark of a diva, as is the liberal use of fear’s ugly cousin, blame. When it’s time to take responsibility for a failure, a star employee will gird herself and raise her hand. A diva, now that those klieg lights are a harsher color, will step to the side and point to the people behind her

3) When your back is turned: You can trust your stars, but you never know what a diva will do when you’re looking the other way. Divas, perhaps to defend a deeper insecurity, protect themselves at all costs. That means that if their image is on the line, the knives come out.

Even with these indicators, you have to be cautious. Rarely are people easy to read, especially because stars often go out of their way to be modest, and divas work hard to insulate themselves from criticism. So watch for how your young hires share credit and take responsibility – and see if you can detect whether their confidence is real or a façade.

You’ll never have a perfectly diva-free hiring record when you’re trying to get the best people. Instead, the most you can do when you spot a diva in your midst is to ask them to exit stage left. Keeping divas means you’ll drive away the stars. Both need lots of oxygen, but only one tends to suck up all the air in the room.

By Joel Peterson