"Superbosses are the great coaches, the igniters of talent, and the teachers of leadership in most industries. In effect, superbosses have mastered something most bosses miss---a path to extraordinary success founded on making other people successful."

- Superbosses, page 14-15

Sydney Finkelstein embarked on a 10 year research project dissecting and collating stories and data on eighteen primary “superbosses”. The result, Superbosses, gives us a managerial handbook of leadership that yields a fresh set of answers to recruit, inspire, motivate and coach “an inexhaustible pipeline of rising stars.”

Superbosses possess many similarities; extreme confidence bordering on fearlessness, extreme competitiveness, visionary, integrity and authenticity. They inspire people around them through their exuberant personalities. Their personalities generally fall into one of three types:

  1. Glorious Bastards: A focus on winning at all costs, mainly by driving their people to excess.
  2. Nurturers: These bosses are typical of a traditional mentor; they take pride in guiding others which is their ultimate success.
  3. Iconoclasts: A single minded passion for their industry or work that inspires others, usually in creative fields.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Hiring like a superboss

"When it comes to hiring, superbosses make their own rules. They forge their own path."
- Superbosses, page 39

Superbosses are looking for recruits that are not just smart and talented—they want unusually talented, startlingly gifted recruits who are willing to drive change or, as Finkelstein describes, “they get it”. Getting it can mean various things for different industries, but broadly includes the following:

  • Unusual intelligence: Nearly all superbosses place an emphasis on everyone being as smart as possible. They determine this by nonconventional interview techniques and job trials.
  • Creativity: Superbosses want to know how potential employees think. It’s not necessary that recruits think as they would as they like to learn from others.
  • Flexibility: Superbosses are often not interested in specialists. They want expertise in many areas and will at times move people around responsibilities to encourage flexibility.

So how does one hire like a superboss if you are a manager or in HR? Finkelstein fortunately believes all of us can learn from superbosses and adopt some strategies with caution.

  1. Firstly, resist the urge to throw out resumes solely on past experience and credentials. Don’t eliminate job criterion entirely but remain aware that you may be missing the very best creative candidates
  2. Feel free to loosen up the formal interview by holding them in an unusual place and by asking different questions. Be more creative in your selection process.
  3. See employee turnover as a positive thing, especially if they are moving ahead or branching out on their own.
  4. Become proud and not jealous of your awesome team.
  5. Hire great people or don’t hire at all.
  6. Take a punt on exceptional candidates even if no job exists.
  7. Be constantly on the lookout for talent everywhere you go.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life


"Applying superboss practice isn't always easy, but if we actively disseminate them, we can give work the incredible meaning and vitality that it should have but all too frequently does not."
- Superbosses, page 200

Finkelstein outlines a superboss quotient which gives great insight into what one must change to become a superboss.

  1. Do you have a specific vision for your work that energizes you and your team? Could all of your employees answer the “why do we exist” question?
  2. Do you employ by non-traditional methods or use a cookie cutter approach?
  3. How often do people leave your team for a bigger offer elsewhere? What is that like for both you and the team—does it make you upset?
  4. Does your team push for other goals, other than formal ones?
  5. How do you go about questioning your assumptions about the business and within your team?
  6. How do you balance the need to delegate and the amount of time needed for hands on coaching?
  7. When promoting employees do you put people in jobs where they may potentially fail, and how do you deal with that if it occurs?
  8. What is the connection between members of the team? Is there healthy competition as well as collaboration?
  9. Do you keep in touch with past employees?
  10. Have any past employees gone on to noteworthy careers?
  11. What is the culture like in respect to nurturing versus getting the job done?

Adapting a superboss playbook is possible, and if you put away your excuses and concentrate on what suits your style there is no reason why we all can’t adopt some of their strategies. For instance, making sure employees understand the vision for your company and encouraging them in more inspirational ways. Look for ways to foster more collegiality between employees and be more forgiving if their new “great” idea didn’t quite work out.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

The Cohort Effect

"For superbosses, extreme collaboration and meaningful competition aren’t opposites; they go hand in hand."
- Superbosses, page 152

Finkelstein gives several examples of companies managed by superbossses where teamwork and deliberate competition were encouraged, such as the Motown record label, run by superboss Berry Gordy, where new “raw” talents were not only coached but also participated in weekly quality control and product evaluation meetings. Gordy also started a finishing school, teaching musicians both social and presentation skills, which many of them lacked. The standards expected were exacting but Gordy’s methods of leadership also allowed freedom of expression, confidence, collegiality and less fear of making mistakes. The result were astonishing. Most artists became close friends, playing basketball together, eating together, and most becoming lifetime friends. The competitive side was intense, but rather than being destructive, it became a challenge to improve as Stevie Wonder reflected in the book. “It was a challenge to come up with great music, great songs. And to me that was cool.” The record label sold millions of records.

How can you jump start the cohort effect in your business? Perhaps by sharing ideas between management and employees, delegating responsibilities more, public recognition of great work and sharing the credit. Also, structure work as to encourage competition recognizing both collaboration and competition. Small ideas we have at our work include weekly yoga classes, monthly social events, training, and even small rewards for individual productivity.

You may not always like your superboss but you will never forget them. To reiterate, a superboss possesses the following characteristics:

  • Creative hiring
  • Give their employees a reason for their importance
  • Engage in master apprentice philosophy
  • Embrace a mindset of change
  • Foster competition and collaboration
  • Develop deep lasting networks of past employees
  • Open the door for new opportunities
  • Engage in coaching life skills
  • They are 100% authentic about their vision and convey that message
  • Encourage discipline, hard work and direct contact with their team members
  • Spotted, trained and built a new generation of future leaders
  • Have a no jerk policy

Where can you improve? Committing to adopting a few of the ideas suggested here may make all the difference to your business.

Consultant or Coach? Take our Fit Assessment to find out if partnering with Actionable is right for you.
Peter Taylor

ABOUT Peter Taylor

I have owned and managed a veterinary based business on the west coast of Australia for 18 years. No one at Veterinary school gives us any clues about running a business and it is only in the last few years that I have started to study business and management...
Read More
blog comments powered by Disqus

Back to summaries