Review: Superbosses – How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent by Sydney Finkelstein

This review first ran in the Feb. 16 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.superbosses

Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent

By Sydney Finkelstein

Portfolio / Penguin


Losing your superstars at work hurts.

But not having any talent worth poaching should be a far bigger worry, says Sydney Finkelstein, director of the Tuck School of Business Center for Leadership at Dartmouth College and author of Superbosses.

“Are you better off having an organization full of okay performers who stay for decades, or a company populated by the world’s best talent who expressly came to work for you, for a time, because of your track record as a talent magnet; and who, upon leaving, stay in the network, serving as ambassadors for you and your brand? The choice is clear.”

If your organization’s a popular farm team for head hunters, there’s likely a superboss on your payroll. This is a very good thing.

“Superbosses are the great coaches, the igniters of talent and the teachers of leadership,” says Finkelstein, who spent a decade researching these exceptional talent spawners. “Superbosses have mastered something most bosses miss – a path to extraordinary success founded on making other people successful.”

According to Finkelstein, there are three types of superbosses.

Iconoclasts are the artists of superbosses. They don’t set out to teach or inspire others, says Finkelstein. “What they care about is their work, their passion. Iconoclasts are so wholly fixated on their vision that they are able to teach in an intuitive, organic way as a natural outgrowth of their passion and in service to it.”

Ultra-competitive glorious bastards surround themselves with the people and teams who will give them the best shot at winning.  “They may be egoists, they may want fame and glory for themselves, but they perceive the success of those around them as the pathway to that glory.”

Benevolent nurturers are activist bosses who are keenly interested in developing their people. “They are consistently present to guide and teach their protégées, and they actively engage with employees to help them reach great heights.”

All three types of superbosses share the same character traits, says Finkelstein. They’re extremely confident and fearless when it comes to furthering their agendas and ideas.

They’re competitive and imaginative. “They think intensely about what could be and are fired up to turn their dreams into reality.”

Superbosses stay true to themselves, their beliefs and values.

And superbosses are authentic. “So many bosses cultivate an image for the benefit of their reports. They keep a tight lid on their personalities, saving their true selves for when they’re away from the office. Not superbosses. They let their personalities hang out.”

If you’re a freshly minted grad just heading out into the work world, seek out a superboss and strap yourself in. She’ll push you harder than anyone else and demand nothing less than your best. She’ll accelerate your career and you’ll forever be part of a tight knit band of brothers and sisters.

If you’re a manager, borrow from the superboss playbook. Get better at spotting and developing talent. And when your superstars inevitably move on to bigger and better things, don’t sulk. Congratulate them and stay in touch.

“Developing world-class talent is on everyone’s agenda as it is the only way to survive and prosper,” says Finkelstein. “The key to organizational vitality is, after all, the ability to constantly regenerate talent. Yet study after study reveals that managers have the most trouble helping others to thrive. It’s time to think about this differently and to start doing some things differently.”

Finkelstein’s book is a good place to start.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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