When I first heard the term, my mind strayed to the lyrics of Trinidadian Soca Star, Machel Mantano’s, 2014 Carnival hit “Like a Boss”. Interestingly, after much reading I was able to find one link between “Like a Boss” and “Superboss” – in both cases the concept speaks to supercharging persons. In the first instance a good party, in the latter turbocharging careers.
But who really is a Superboss? The term was developed by author Sydney Finkelstein in his book Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Manage the Flow of Talent. A Superboss goes a step beyond merely focusing on supervision, commanding and performance management. A Superboss is actively invested in the development of his/her staff. The Superboss is interested in seeing his/her charges develop, grow and succeed not only within the context of their role as an employee, but also in the general evolution of their abilities and career. He/she doesn’t just create leaders by example, but rather they are actively involved in helping their employees to maximize their talent and to self-actualize professionally.
Some common traits that identify the Superboss include authenticity, confidence, creativity, innovativeness and competitiveness. They not only demonstrate integrity and imagination but also inspire it in others. According to Finkelstein they also do one other unique but essential thing – they all employ a cadre of practices that impact the way they recruit and develop the talent of others.
You hear of stories where someone wrote an unconventional resume or was picked out of the crowd because of an audacious or seemly challenging comment for the position of a life time and we think “wow how did that happen?” Situations like these are, however, more than just playful anecdotes and in many cases the move of a Superboss.
Superbosses are attuned to that “something extra” in a person that the resume often times does not reveal. They train themselves to spot gifted individuals who are not just technically competent but have the drive and audaciousness to redefine success and create their own playbook. The focus according to Finkelstein is “on intelligence, creativity, and flexibility”. Together these characteristics are dynamite! Superbosses are not afraid to recruit people who meet this criterion, even if the person surpasses the Superboss in these attributes. In fact, they welcome it, because they understand that when you surround yourself with greatness and provide an environment conducive to its growth and development, greatness is promulgated.
Superbosses hone in on people who are quick learners and problem solvers and are also willing to take chances on persons who may be perceived as misfits or unlikely candidates. They encourage and see the benefit of diversity and even go as far as tailoring the job to suit the talent. They accept that talented people will move on but they know that the person will do their best for them while they are with them and see turn over as an opportunity to cultivate fresh talent. Their leadership is hands-on, they are great delegators and while they demand excellence they infuse their people with the confidence and the exceptionalism that they need to make excellence happen. Superbosses are mentors who help to mold all rounded protégés and the relationship transcends the immediate employer/employee dynamic as they make sure that they stay in touch with talent after they have left, thereby creating networks and partnerships.
Want to be a Superboss? Well, Finkelstein argues that “anyone in an organization can become a Superboss.” It is a teachable and learnable trait that can be developed with commitment and by adopting a long term strategy for talent development. The trick is in redirecting your focus – instead of just focusing on technical competency and retention, focus on inspiring those in your charge, cultivate their ideas, propagate their confidence, spawn creativity, encourage ideas and be open to new ways of doing things.
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