The difference between an A-Player and a B-Player


The term (A-Player) is a common term used in reference to high-performing individuals. People whom business owners recognise as providing the most value to your business.


I met with an old friend and work colleague recently.

Seventeen years had passed since the last time we sat together over a coffee. A long time, since we toiled through dot-com-era Melbourne.

We hugged, we kissed, we laughed and reminisced. We swapped stories about family, children and as would have it with ex-colleagues, we discussed work.

During this same weekend, I also connected with some other amazing people as I was invited to judge the national AGDA awards here in Australia — and I shared the honour with a group of Designers, Developers, Art Directors and creative agency owners from around the world. It was an experience that can only be described as a privilege.

These people were all impressive in their own way, and it got me thinking as to "what and why".

What were the characteristics and attributes that made these people so good at what they do - and what separates them from others?

As I head back home from that meeting and the weekend of judging (I'm flying home so have ample time to write) I think back over a weekend of great work and healthy candour with a select group of Creative Leaders from across the globe; and a time in my career when I was surrounded by individuals who were at the top of their game. 

What separates the Good players from the Great?

What separates the A-Players from the B?

The term (A-Player) is a common term used in reference to high-performing individuals. People whom, business owners recognise as providing the most value to your business.

As you may have picked up, the term is borrowed from the world of sport — Lebron, Muhammad, Tia and MJ were all A-Players for their respective teams and catalysts in bringing their discipline to the fore.

As I asked myself these questions, I saw that there were common traits amongst the few people I was surrounded by — traits that separated them from many other people I've worked with throughout my career.

When I was studying at University I made some broad assumptions as to what made a successful person in business, creativity and the world of design and technology. Assumptions that have been proven wrong, time and time again.

I also see the same assumptions made often, when I speak to graduating students and some young and emerging creative leaders. 

They, and I, assumed that an A-Player is defined by the following attributes:

  • Strength in craft: The ability to whip up beautiful, technically brilliant visual design ideas.

  • Strength in method: The ability to understand the 'how' so well they could (but often don't) write a book about it.

  • Strength in their personal brand: They know lots of other people whom you don't know so they must be really good at what they do.

  • Award-winning: Their bio says that they are 'award-winning' do 'award-winning work' and work for an 'award-winning' studio/agency, so that must make them someone important.

  • They have a job title that has the words 'Senior', 'Director' and/or 'Strategic/Strategy' in it so they should be respected.

This list is ridiculous and narrow-minded. And I was guilty of believing it for a very long time.

It is simply a list of ingredients that will bake little more than an 'Ego Cake'.

As I looked my friend in the eye and remembered, fondly the challenges and tribulations we faced together. From learning new ways of creating, making and developing products to teaching one another at every opportunity; it occurred to me that he, and my fellow judges over that weekend had the attributes of A-Players; without doubt.

So, as I fly back to Melbourne, I collect attributes and characteristics to summarise what separates good from great. What traits make someone that 'something special'.

I hope it brings value to you.

A-Players have these in spades

  1. They have an immeasurable appetite to learn and do something about it.

  2. They'll make something, they'll test things, they'll tinker, fail and learn. They'll share this journey with their peers and they'll relish in the adventure not the finish line.

  3. They will teach you everything they know and you'll find them sharing knowledge with all that surround them.

  4. They'll 'Green Hat' ideas at every opportunity. In fact, the moment someone mentions an idea, there's a glimmer in their eye.

  5. They will have a circle of A-Players around them. By default, by design and also by serendipity.

  6. They will lift others by allowing them to sit on their shoulders.

  7. They won't bring problems to the table without solutions and the plan to solve them.

  8. They will explore their craft, hone their skill and never aim for perfection, knowing full well it doesn't exist.

  9. They acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses with equal measure.

  10. They have a clear understanding that their work does not define them. It simply is something they do.

  11. They are selfless with their time and knowledge and selfish with their self awareness.

  12. They know who they are, why they're doing what they're doing and what it will take to get where they are going.

  13. They are well read. They know they don't know everything and their thirst for knowledge sees them reading to digest the knowledge of others.

  14. They aren't precious about their ideas — in fact, ideas come thick and fast. And easily.

  15. They bring immeasurable value to the business — and to do this, they seek out what value the business needs, so they can understand what value to bring. They ask questions, they rethink their own position and they re-train their old habits to focus on value generation.

  16. They know how to set goals and work towards them.

  17. They relish failure.

  18. They don't make excuses.

  19. They're humble.

  20. It's never about them — it's always about the team, the work and the journey.

I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed working with and sharing time with my small list of A-Players — they know who they are because I tell them of the value they bring to my life at every opportunity.

Look out for an interview with a few of them in the near future.