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January 12, 2016

What 'superbosses' have in common

Daily Briefing
    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on May 12, 2022.

    What elevates a boss from the merely good to the great? The ability to spot and groom talent, Sydney Finkelstein writes for Harvard Business Review.

    Infographic: Here are 4 ways to be a less-stressed leader

    When looking at the top people in a given industry, "you'll often find that as many as half of them once worked for the same well-known leader," Finkelstein writes. From professional football to tech firms, people who are mentored by well-known leaders often head into the C-suite themselves.

    Finkelstein conducted more than 200 interviews and reviewed thousands of books and articles to identify dozens of individuals he considered to be "superbosses"—people who "didn't just build organizations" but also "spotted, trained, and developed a future generation of leaders."

    According to Finkelstein, superbosses share many personality traits, such as integrity and competitiveness, and also hone talent in similar ways.

    How superbosses hire

    First, superbosses seek out unusually gifted people, Finkelstein says—not just those who are a good fit for the role they're interviewing for, but those who are capable of "rewriting the very definition of success."

    Superbosses are notorious for looking past traditional indicators of talent and being "willing to take chances on people who lack industry experience or even college degrees," Finkelstein writes.

    For example, Tommy Frist, the co-founder of Hospital Corporation of America, was known to direct promising physical therapists into executive roles, "simply because he spotted something in them."

    Superbosses also aren't afraid to change a job description. If they find someone who is a great fit for their organization, they will tweak—or sometimes completely reinvent—the position to ensure they're using that person to their full potential. And staff are encouraged to move around and reshape their roles as needed, taking on more responsibilities as they prove their worth.

    In the workplace

    Superbosses are also master delegators, Finkelstein says. They trust the team they've created—and set high expectations. It can be difficult to satisfy a superboss, but for those who can, it "instill[s] a sense of confidence and exceptionalism," Finkelstein writes.

    These "smart, creative, flexible people tend to have fast-paced careers," and some may leave their superboss for a promising position elsewhere. But rather than mourn their broken-up team, superbosses "regard turnover as an opportunity to find fresh stars," Finkelstein says. And even once their protégés leave, superbosses continue to mentor them throughout their careers.

    Turnover isn't as big of a problem for superbosses, because they have a steady stream of potential protégés coming through the door. Finkelstein says. "Superbosses barely need to recruit," he writes, "because their reputations bring a continuous stream of talent to them" (Finkelstein, Harvard Business Review, January/February ).

    Next, here are 4 ways to be a less-stressed leader


    Stress is endemic in today’s health care workforce, but the good news is that leaders have much more control over their stress levels at work than they might think. The most effective leaders take steps to proactively keep their own stress in check—while modeling healthy habits for their teams.

    Use this infographic to review effective stress management strategies that can help you become a less-stressed leader.

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