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MVF Library Series- Sydney Finkelstein’s book “Superbosses”

Here is our second review of the "Books in our MVF Library" series, Jared Keleher discusses Sydney Finkelstein’s “Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent”.

The basic premise of the book- How to identify between a manager and a superboss, and how to master the traits and talents in order to work towards superboss status.

Ralph Lauren, George Lucas and Alice Waters are world-renowned professionals in their individual industries. As such, all three have weathered decades of management experience and have been rewarded with superstar status.

Yet according to Sydney Finkelstein, professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business (and author of 20 books), the number of years of experience, the size of a team or even the chosen industry are not differentiating factors when it comes to sorting the managers from the superbosses.

After a decade of study, interviews and analysis, Finkelstein has identified the unique factors that each superboss shares and in so doing, provides us with an opportunity to work towards superboss status of our own.

Identifying a Superboss

The list of rich and successful CEOs and business leaders is longer than it's ever been, but not all business owners have the superboss quality Finkelstein has isolated.

When faced with a sea of world-famous business professionals, Finkelstein noticed that a select few stood out based on their uncanny ability to spawn top talent.

Traits and Talent Strategies

Using the ability to generate top talent as the unique superboss factor, Finkelstein analysed both confirmed and suspected superbosses in order to identify the common traits these legendary individuals share.

The five common personality traits of each superboss are as follows:

* Confidence
* Competitiveness
* Creativity (highly imaginative)
* Integrity
* Authenticity

Alongside these five key traits, superbosses also importantly share a mantra and commonality in their unorthodox people strategies. The biggest differentiators are in the way superbosses hire, retain, develop and even let go of top talent.

Finkelstein identifies that the first step in a superboss strategy involves hiring unusually intelligent and gifted people. Superbosses typically place a great deal of emphasis on intelligence, creativity and flexibility in their chosen candidates.

Often mavericks, superbosses don't adhere to the usual indicators of success in applicants either. The right experience and education become meaningless if the perfect candidate sitting in front of you has neither of these things. At this stage, the superboss chooses the candidate they simply see something special in. With a tendency not to accept generic depictions of talent, superbosses are statistically more likely to hire women and minority candidates too; creating a team brimming with diversity.

Following the theme of avoiding the tradhahah itional, superbosses often don't follow suit with interview styles either. Seemingly random or quirky lines of questioning serve as a platform from which to observe participant reactions. Finkelstein even detailed superboss interviews that took place throughout a strenuous outdoor hike.

When the time comes to lose talent, superbosses accept employee churn. The ideal candidates who appeal to superbosses in the first place, burn hard and burn bright. When talent moves on, this creates an opening for a new person but also allows the superboss to extend their influence or relationship to their protégé’s new venture.

A Family Tree

Not only do superbosses achieve success in their own profession, they generate an entire new generation of top-tier business leaders who are referred to as protégés. As these leaders move on to new opportunities, the metaphorical family tree that links C-Suite professionals or company leaders expands.

The example of Larry Ellison demonstrates this perfectly. With Ellison, we now know of a number of CEOs across the world united by the fact that they all worked for Larry Ellison at one point in time. If this were a real family tree - Ellison would now effectively be the proud father of not one, but 11 hugely successful companies created by his protégés (a fact that offers obvious benefits of its own).

Types of Superboss

While there is no single cookie-cutter superboss template, there are three clear varieties of superboss:

* The Glorious Bastard is in it to win it and is driven by success. This no nonsense manager strives to be the best and while the process can be intimidating for direct reports, a great deal is learned by the example set.

* The Nurturers spend time with their team, coaching and advising direct reports in order to provide a positive influence and to nurture professional development.

* The Iconoclast is a creative and passionate professional who is so enamoured by their work that their own incredible passion and results are inherited and recreated by direct reports.

Aside from achieving professional success, the wider impact of being a superboss means that the whole world wants to work for you. Regardless of the specific type of superboss, the success of the protégé is consistent - showing that no one type of superboss is better than another.

How to act like a Superboss

After observing a variety of superbosses in action and having spoken to a number of protégés, Finkelstein identifies that delegation is crucial. Once you've hired the best talent, trust them to work.

In the workplace of a superboss there is no micromanagement, yet the superbosses know what's going on in their teams at all times - they are connected and involved. Protégés are given a great deal of responsibility and exposure to new experiences but are watched and are always guided by effective feedback.

Superbosses are also able to offer bespoke career paths for their talent, often throwing them into roles of extreme impact and importance. As a result, superbosses become talent magnets.

To emulate or even become a superboss, Finkelstein's advice is to consider unorthodox applicants and work hard to instill confidence in your existing team. Getting “in the trenches” with your team allows the boss to fully appreciate what is really going on, but also allows the team to improve by proximity. Finally, delegate responsibility - even to younger, less experienced team members.

A superboss is not defined by their position as a CEO or as a business founder, they are defined by their personality traits and by their leadership style. With that in mind, a superboss can exist at any management level in a corporation. For that reason I’d highly recommend this book to any manager eager to develop their leadership style and to prime their direct reports for success.

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