There are good bosses, great bosses and, now, superbosses. In the HBR article, “Secrets of the Superboss“, Syndey Finkelstein discusses the choices, actions and attitudes that go into making someone a super boss. There’s also a podcast interview. I highly encourage you to check them out. They are worth your time.
In a broad sense, a superboss is not just a legend in their industry. They create legends. As the article notes, “They didn’t just build organizations; they spotted, trained, and developed a future generation of leaders.” A superboss then is one whose influence goes beyond their immediate circle and spreads down the talent tree of their careers.
Superbosses are very confident and competitive. There’s also a dedication to integrity that’s important. They seem to embody the idea that winning by cheating isn’t winning.
Some of the hiring values noted in the article are ones I’ve heard before during my tenures at Idealab. Hiring smart people who are creative and flexible is core. Unless you are in an extremely mature environment where change happens over years (and those environments are fewer and farther apart), then being able to adapt and adjust is crucial. A candidate may have a degree from the best schools but if they can’t handle a curve ball with ease and grace, what good are they?
This notion also allows superbosses to find talent in under-tapped markets. Because they believe talent and success can be anywhere, they tend to hire more women and minorities. This approach gives their teams diversity and breadth that research has shown leads to higher performance and returns.
The other trait that caught my eye in the article is the acceptance of churn. This is a notion that my late mentor instilled in me at GoTo.com. When you hire smart, talented people, you should expect them to want to go and do more. They will master the tasks before them and, if you’re developing them properly, create systems that make the output consistently above par.
Personally, I ask team members for 12-18 months of solid performance to then expect my wholehearted support for a move if that’s what they want.
Too many managers worry about losing great talent. You should view this less as a loss of talent for your team and more as a gaining of allies within the organization or the marketplace. Your reach and effectiveness expand as their access to opportunities expand.
There’s a high overlap between being an excellent manager (our usual focus) and being a superboss. That overlap is clearly around people. How you treat your team, recognize their individual needs/goals, communicate in ways they can hear; and create paths for development define you as a manager.
The step to being the manager you see within yourself is clear: help people achieve their goals, and you will reach yours.
HBR also provides a Superboss assessment quiz. Take it and let me know how you scored.