Superbosses by Sydney Finkelstein

Superbosses by Sydney Finkelstein

Superbosses by Sydney Finkelstein

by styleabille , June 7, 2020

Book Reviews

This is a book about how exceptional leaders master the flow of talent. Finkelstein distinguishes between three types of superbosses

The iconoclasts: they are fixated on their vision that they are able to teach intuitively and organically. Think of Ralph Lauren!

The glorious bastards: those who are less attuned to developing others than they are to winning, no matter what. The likes of Larry Ellisson, Oracle.

The nurturers: they deeply care about their protégés and pride themselves for developing them. Bill Walsh (American football coach) seems to be a great example.

Common characteristics of superbosses

Yet, the author identifies common characteristics of the superbosses he studied over several years while heading the Tuck’s center for leadership (Dartmouth).

1-     Extreme confidence and fearlessness: For superbosses, there are no problems, there are only solutions and opportunities.

2-     Competitiveness: Superbosses like to win. They also like to compete and measure their progress against themselves and others.

3-     Imaginative: It is common for superbosses to talk about dreams that oftentimes seem unrealistic. In their mind, everything is possible.

4-     Integrity: In their approach to hiring and growing the best teams, superbosses remain true to their mission.

5-     Authenticity: Superbosses are not only superbosses at work. They demonstrate superbosses traits across various aspects of their life.

The good news is that the book puts forward a comprehensive superboss playbook as research found that anyone has the opportunity to become one.

My question mark remains about the definition of success that S. Finkelstein seems to view.

 One tightly correlated to a fortune or similar simplistic indicators.

Superbosses and their expectations

The author continues explaining his theory about superbosses. Those are on the quest of a “special something” as he calls it. They are also exceptionally capable of spotting “it”. In fact, superbosses are not on the lookout for people who are equipped with skills enabling them to score high on some standard test. They are seeking three main characteristics in their teams: unusual intelligence, emphasized creativity, and extreme flexibility. On top, superbosses are interested in how their team members react to unexpected questions or situations when they are the least prepared. Superbosses consider their teams as “diamonds in the rough” comparable to a sizable business opportunity.

The research revealed that most bosses are not comfortable having the very best around them. They do not feel at ease directing people who understand the work better than they do. They worry that super star employees outshine them. On the contrary, superbosses look for people who question their wisdom, challenge them, and keep them from making mistakes. As such, superbosses have noticeable self-confidence.

The study uncovered however that superbosses have high turn-over. 

Most people cannot keep up with their demands. But at what cost? For superbosses, it does not seem to matter as creativity and talent outweigh stability of staff. This book demonstrates how superbosses organizations are regarded as “launching pads”. The author defines them as a place where a person can “find himself” and “become”.

Data also shows that people eager to work for superbosses are willing to accept lower salaries. They are also subjected to exceptionally hard work. For superbosses, perfect is the only good enough.

Here is another question mark! Not long ago Elon Musk burnt out. Arianna Huffington wrote an open letter to him in her quest to make the world of work more tolerable.

That said, don’t superbosses push themselves too far? 

The author found out that superbosses do not fear similar criticism and they utterly refuse to moderate their standards. Check out Elon’s response to Arianna! The question remains unanswered as to whether whip-cracking perfectionism is counterproductive.

Vision and modus operandi

This book focuses on the vision of superbosses. This idea resonates with Simon Sinek’s why. Superbosses do not just try to make money or become famous. They want to have an impact, change the industry… and the world. Their belief in their vision is unique, authentic, and consistent.

The advantage of having a vision and sticking to it is that superbosses do not need to constantly monitor their employees to make sure they are putting out their best. The alignment with the vision is natural and contagious. It is important to note though that many bosses have a vision. However, what differentiates superbosses is that their unshakable vision is combined with openness to change that allow them to unleash a torrent of ideas.

Superbosses nurture openness in various ways

–         They want their teams to take risks proactively

–         They design work environments where innovation can thrive

–         They avert their employees from resting on their laurels

Another key practice the author identified as he studied superbosses is their belief in apprenticeship. Amid the rush to all forms of learning, learning from someone remains valid and reliable since the fifteenth century. Oftentimes, this is enabled within a flat organization where contact is unmediated and constant. Learning from a superboss has proven to be memorable because superbosses typically share their wisdom in intimate, informal, and unusual settings. Also, learnings have shown to be multi-layered touching upon business, life, and talent.

It is safe to say that superbosses “manage by walking around” which is a scientific phrase coined by many management experts!

In typical organizations and with standards line managers, some responsibilities require a certain age or a certain background. Superbosses have none of these; they see potential and they are willing to give outsized opportunities. They also tailor their mentoring style to their team members: wouldn’t a superboss do the same for a customer?

Data shows that superbosses often opt for fearless and effective delegation. They trust their employees and they hold them accountable. Their rule is clear: sink or swim. They believe that the only people who do not do mistakes are those who do not do anything at all.

In most established organizations, people who are compliant are favored. They do not rock the boat. They do what their line managers ask them to. And… they move up. This is the last thing a superboss wants.

Superbosses hold a few contradictions that are hard to understand. As much as they are good delegators, they have a great attention to details. As much as they favor collaboration, they also encourage competition. Yet, superbosses do not allow jerks. For superbosses, it is a matter of balance (my superboss, Roy Badaro, calls is “coopetition”!).

Paul McCarthney said of John Lenon: “If I did something good, he would want to do something better.”

Speaking about contradictions, there has been a powerful belief that Malcom Gladwell studied and published in his famous Outliers.

For Gladwell, it takes around 10,000 hours of training to master a skill. 

Sydney Finkelstein’s findings demonstrate that the time is not an important factor when one has a superboss. It is rather the quality of the time: one does not need to work for very long for a superboss for a career-altering impact: superbosses compress learning.

Superbosses around the globe and across industries seem to have successfully created a network of superbosses as above all, they teach their methodology to fostering talent. In all cases, one would not seem to realize he or she works with a superboss until he or she loses him; but superbosses inject resilience…

Tag your superboss – oftentimes a person you left yet he or she never left you! If you are interested in designing a leadership development program around the principles of superbosses: get in touch!

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