Companies are known by their high-octane leaders. An enterprise is what these bosses make them to be, whether small or big. This is the truism of management. It was while studying the characteristics of superbosses that leadership guru Sydney Finkelstein discovered groundbreaking truths about certain traits of people who could build and run world-class companies. This Professor of Strategy and Leadership at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and Director of the Center for Leadership speaks to Tyre Asia about what makes superbosses. He is also the author of 20 books with several bestsellers, including Why Smart Executives Fail and the latest SUPERBOSSES: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent

Sydney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth Professor of Management and faculty director of the Tuck Executive Program (TEP) at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, is a much sought after management consultant and speaker to senior executives around the globe. As an executive coach, whose focus is to unravel and develop management talent, has seen an enormous number of enterprises perfect strategies for growth. He is listed in the ‘Thinkers 50’ of the world’s most prestigious ranking of leadership gurus and authored 20 books including best sellers Why Smart Executives Fail and the latest SUPERBOSSES: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent.
In an interview to Tyre Asia he said his research has found many superbosses in China, India and every other country he looked at. “There is a stronger family influence in many countries to be sure,” he commented about Asian corporate leadership. “It translates into a much lower likelihood that talent will leave. But the same factors that make superbosses so successful in the United States also translate to other setting,” he says.
“In a culture where the superbosses’ mindset might be less well distributed, those leaders and companies who can embrace and execute on a superboss culture will have a competitive advantage,” he said referring to Ratan Naval Tata, who worked within the Tata Group from 1961 to 2012 and was at its helm from 1991 to 2012. He still serves as an adviser to Tata and is India’s foremost angel investor.
Under his leadership, the Tata Group grew immensely, restructured to become more uniform and efficient, dramatically increased profits, strengthened its already-considerable commitment to corporate social responsibility, globalised, and yielded a team of leaders to carry the group into the future upon his retirement.
The Tata Group includes 98 companies operating in dozens of industries, and most of his protégés have stayed within the group. However, these protégés move around within the group, demonstrating their versatility as managers. These protégés have led their respective divisions of the Tata Group to spectacular success.
Commenting on the traits of superbosses, Prof Finkelstein affirms that they are geniuses at helping others accomplish more than they ever thought possible. This is not “team-building” or “mentoring”, but something much more, much deeper, that changes protégés from talented apprentices to stars and superstars in their own right.
Superbosses have the ability to spot talent and nurture them under their wings. They know that the only way to win and survive as an organisation over the long term, is to generate and regenerate talent on a continuous basis. It is the single best thing to avert failure.

Superstar talent

Prof Finkelstein’s research has revealed that in each enterprise there are one or two people who have had an outsized influence on the development of superstar talent. They actually do things that are incredibly similar that are actually teachable. They develop counter-intuitive ideas on how to identify, motivate, inspire, and leverage talent.
“Superbosses have resurrected the old master-apprentice relationship that most associate with the training of craftsmen in the Middle Ages. But it turns out that working closely with a superboss is one of the best ways to turbocharge your career.”
Superbosses do not get upset when their protégé leaves because they are positive that their reputation for producing talent would only grow further, and they become talent magnets. “Nobody gets stale, and you become the employer of choice for new blood who know that you’re the person to work for if you want to accelerate your career,” he remarks.
“I’d love to see people learn from superbosses, adopt superboss practices, and teach them to the people around them. It’s a formula for business success as much as it is about leadership,” he says. “They push you, challenge you, engage you, give you a chance to have a big impact on what is happening at your organisation. Especially for millennials, but for everyone, superbosses help make work meaningful again.”
When asked how job seekers could identify superbosses, Prof Finkelstein said they have key markers such as their ability to work hand-in-hand with subordinates and create opportunities for protégés to learn. They strongly encourage collegiality even as they simultaneously drive internal competition. They value talent and creativity over stability of staff.
Superbosses are igniters of talent. Over time protégés of superbosses become among the most successful in their industries, and are duly compensated for it. They are endowed with the ability of communication, authenticity and originality. “If you can combine these three elements into your purpose, people will fall over themselves trying to work for you,” said Prof Finkelstein.
Like Tata, superbosses have a compelling vision and they emphasise the importance of talented teams. What he has done is to establish growth mechanism, play down individuals and play up the team that has made his companies valuable winning respect for the company and its ethical practices.

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