How To Be A Superboss

"Superbosses embrace certain practices that good bosses don't, and they do even more of the productive things that good bosses do," says Syney Finkelstein, author of the book, Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent.

What's more, according to Finkelstein's findings from ten years of research and two hundred interviews, superbosses focus on identifying promising newcomers, inspiring their best work, and launching them into highly successful careers, while also expanding their own networks and building stronger companies.

Most important, "regenerating the talent pool is the single most important thing any leader can do to survive and prosper," adds Finkelstein.

Sydney Finkelstein

Superbosses also do this:
  • Create master-apprentice relationships
  • Rely on the cohort effect
  • Say good-bye on good terms
  • Adapt the job or organization to fit the talent
  • Take chances on unconventional talent
  • Look for new talent pools
  • Hire on the sport
  • Accept churn

Finkelstein shared these additional insights into what makes a superboss:

QuestionWhat skill do superbosses possess that most bosses don't even think of pursuing?

Finkelstein: Superbosses are geniuses at helping other people accomplish more than they ever thought possible. This superboss approach is not "team-building" or "mentoring," but something much deeper, that transform proteges from talented apprentices to stars and superstars in their own right.

QuestionWhat is an example of a counter-intuitive thing that superbosses do?

Finkelstein: Superbosses don't fixate on talent retention, like most companies do. If some of your best people leave, your reputation for producing talent grows, and you become a talent magnet. Nobody gets stale, and you become the employer of choice for new blood, known for the person to work for if you want to accelerate your career.

Question: How can job seekers identify superbosses to work for in order to advance their careers?

Finkelstein: While there are a bunch of key markers job seekers should pay attention to, there are three key questions I'd want to ask if I'm looking for a superboss:
  1. Do you like to delegate big assignments to your subordinates, or do you work closely with them on key projects? You want a boss who does both!
  2. How often do people leave your team to accept a bigger offer elsewhere? What's that like when it happens? Beware the boss who can't think of any examples, or whose response implies disloyalty more than pride.
  3. Do you stay in touch with former subordinates who have left the company? You want a resounding yes to this one.
Finkelstein is the Steven Roth Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and the director of Tuck's Center for Leadership. He has published eight previous books.


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