Who are Your Superbosses?

Everyone knows what a good boss does – hits the goals and leads the team. But what do you call people who far surpass their goals and create the next set of leaders your company needs to reach a whole new level in its development? Leadership and Management expert Sydney Finkelstein of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College calls them Superbosses, which is the title of his latest book. But then there’s the subtitle of the book: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent. Intrigued? I know I was.

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It’s this talent piece of the equation that sets superbosses apart from other successful people. This is what Finkelstein stumbled across. For example, there was a point in the National Football League where 20 out of 32 head coaches had either trained directly under Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers or someone in his coaching hierarchy. In technology, 9 of the 11 executives who worked closely with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison became CEOs, chairs, or COOs of other companies. You’ll find the same with all sorts of others – television executive Lorne Michaels, restaurateur Alice Waters, moviemaker George Lucas, and fashion pioneer Ralph Lauren, just to name a few.

They shared some traits you would expect – confidence, imagination, competitiveness, integrity, and authenticity, for starters. But it’s their people strategies that set them apart, and the good news is that you can learn from their strategies and tactics. Here’s a testament to the kind of impact they have: Take the top fifty leaders of any field and you’ll find that anywhere from a third to half of them will have worked for a superboss at some point. What are the secrets of the superbosses? Here they are in a nutshell:

Unorthodox Hiring

Think about all the different traits you think you want in employees that would make them awesome workers and write them down on a piece of paper. Now crumple that piece of paper up and throw it away. Superbosses look for three specific traits above all others – intelligence, creativity, and flexibility. That’s it. That’s the secret sauce of superboss recruiting. A superboss who comes across someone who is unusually gifted in those three traits will hire the person even if they don’t have relevant experience, or even a college degree. Why are those three traits so important? Because people with those traits can…

  • Approach problems from new angles.
  • Handle surprises.
  • Learn quickly.
  • Excel in any position.

Giving People Room to Soar

A superboss takes an exceptional person and pushes them to an even higher level, often getting them to do the seemingly impossible. Make no mistake; superbosses set the bar very high for their protégés, but are also supremely confident they can do it, and they instill that confidence in their people. Because superbosses are confident in their picks, they allow their people an incredible degree of autonomy to get the job done. It’s like a master-apprentice relationship where the apprentice is largely on their own but also being monitored for progress. They also act as coaches and mentors, and what they offer is highly customized to exactly what each person needs, offered up with a healthy dose of pragmatism. When the people chosen meet expectations early on, they’ll be properly rewarded, including even greater responsibility and challenges to rise up and meet.

Saying Good-Bye on Good Terms

Perhaps the most impressive part of the superboss phenomenon is that they don’t get upset when their protégés leave. They’re okay with that. Besides, they know these people can still be incredibly valuable contacts in their network. And that mentoring relationship I was just talking about? With superbosses it tends to continue long after the person has left the company, simply because it’s the right thing to do.

For the purposes of Talent Management 360, I just love it that the one thing that sets superbosses apart from other successful business leaders is their unique approach to finding and developing talent. This is one book that should be at the very top of your 2016 reading list.

January 30, 2016   Updated :November 16, 2016   bosses, leadership, superbosses   

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