Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent

I’ve been earning a paycheck since I was a teenager. I’ve worked in all types of places for all types of people, and learned valuable lessons in each situation. What makes one place or experience better than others?  Fulfilling work, a sense of accomplishment, and a decent salary are all important, but are they enough?  For some, the chance to work for or with an industry visionary or “superboss” drives the decision.

Sidney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth Professor of Management at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and the director of Tuck’s Center for Leadership, just released his latest book, Superbosses, the culmination of more than 10 years of research and 200 interviews. One of the conclusions of this fascinating book is superbosses exist in almost every industry. Their personal styles differ, but they all share common traits and behaviors.

One important behavior of a superboss, according to Finkelstein, is how they “identify, motivate, coach and leverage” talented new associates. They build collegial teams, almost pseudo families, yet encourage competition to push people beyond their limits. And when their successful protégés are ready to leave the fold, the superboss is supportive and encouraging. Mentor and mentee part on good terms and stay in touch, regularly exchanging prospects, leads, ideas, and industry gossip. The mentee–now a proven success in his or her own right–is still in the orbit of the superboss, whose influence continues to expand exponentially.

What are some of the personal characteristics that superbosses share? According to Finkelstein, there are five:

  • Superbosses all possess extreme confidence, even fearlessness, when it comes to furthering their own agendas and ideas.
  • …all superbosses share competitiveness…they thrive on it, they seek it out, and they create it.
  • …a character trait shared by superbosses–and one central to their innovation–is their imaginative nature. Superbosses are visionaries.
  • A fourth characteristic that superbosses universally manifest is integrity…strict adherence to a core vision or sense of self.
  • A fifth and final attribute of superbosses, a natural extension of integrity, is authenticity.

I recommend this book as a valuable resource to anyone who is interested in how organizations operate and how to motivate others. Finkelstein believes the “superboss effect” is teachable, and that any of us could learn and adopt what they do to develop world-class talent.

If you manage others, compare yourself to these superbosses to see if you share any of the same traits and what you can do to perhaps become more like them. If you work for someone else, ask yourself if you work for a superboss. If you do not currently work for a superboss but want to, who in your industry is setting the bar for innovation and talent? Where do you need to be to grow the most, to be the best in your field?

Superbosses are among us even if they are not mentioned by name in this immensely readable book. Finkelstein’s Superbosses provides a roadmap to find them.


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