The Way Of The Superboss: An Interview With Sydney Finkelstein

By David Hassell, CEO of 15Five

Dr. Sydney Finkelstein is Professor of Management and Faculty Director of the Tuck Center for Leadership at Dartmouth College. He teaches courses on leadership and strategy and has also published numerous books and articles including his latest book, Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent.

What do Lorne Michaels, producer of Saturday Night Live, and Jon Stewart, former host of The Daily Show have in common? Well, in addition to making us laugh hysterically for many years, according to Dr. Finkelstein they are both superbosses. But what exactly is a superboss? What characteristics set them apart from average bosses or CEOs?

What are Superbosses?

A superboss is a leader who helps other people get better, thereby creating other leaders. They have come up with methods of identifying unusual talent, inspiring them, and unleashing their innovation and creativity. Superbosses create a culture where employees are expected to be creative as part of their jobs. Here are some tips for managers of people at any level to become a superboss:

1) Inspiration is the job of every manager and leader.  In a 24/7 world of work, many leaders are simply motivating others to get the job done. What is often missing is the purpose behind it all. Ralph Lauren was exceptional at inspiring others, confidently indicating to his team that the world looks to their leadership. He authentically made people believe that they were creating something special: Why are you working so hard? Because you are changing the world.

2) Masters cultivate new masters. Formalized education has all but eradicated the model of apprenticeship. But superbosses are unafraid to roll up their sleeves and work directly with people on occasion. Leadership does not just mean, “delegate and forget”. True leaders are close to their employees, understand what they are doing, and insert themselves when needed.  They also customize how they interact based on what makes each individual tick.

The Power of Inspirational Leadership

The world is moving so fast today that leaders have to decentralize decision making in order to keep up. As this trend continues, executives and senior managers will have to empower all managers to be superbosses.

Dr. Finkelstein is confident that once people start down the path, there is no going back. Inspirational leadership becomes part of the DNA of organizations and its management. When people benefit from and enjoy this type of leadership, they naturally want to help others get better as well. But even for people who don’t care about the advancement of others, this method will help them get better. When we surround ourselves with the best talent and create a winning environment, everyone benefits.

Creating these environments where people are guided into becoming their best selves must be intentional. The next step is for organizations to measure superboss competencies and capabilities, and to teach people how to move the process further along. For that, you’ll have to read the book…

Follow Sydney on Twitter @sydfinkelstein to stay connected to what he’s thinking about and writing. Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent, was released on Feb 9, 2016.



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