Summary Written by Peter Taylor
"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

The Big Idea

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


"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.

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Insight #2

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:

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Sydney Finkelstein

Sydney Finkelstein is the Steven Roth Professor of Management and Director of the Center for Leadership at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, where he teaches courses on Leadership and Strategy. He is also the Faculty Director of the flagship Tuck Executive Program, and has experience working with executives at a number of other prestigious universities around the world. He holds degrees from Concordia University and the London School of Economics, as well as a Ph.D. from Columbia University in strategic management.

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