8 Secrets to Being a Superboss
In a recent article titled "Managing Yourself: Secrets of the Superbosses," The Harvard Business Review recognized certain leaders—including Ralph Lauren, Larry Ellison, Jay Chiat, and Alice Waters—as superbosses for their outstanding ability to groom talent. “They didn’t just build organizations; they spotted, trained, and developed a future generation of leaders,” says The Harvard Business Review. In an effort to find out how we can one day be superbosses, we did some investigating and came away with eight lessons. Scroll through to find out what it takes to be a superboss.
When it comes to building a team, superbosses do two things consistently. First, they hire their weaknesses. Jessica Alba tells Forbes, “You never want to be the smartest person in the room.” You want to build a team of exceptional people that addresses any knowledge or experience gaps you may have as a leader. Second, superbosses pay top dollar for top talent. Once you find the right person for the job, being generous with compensation is a sign of strength, not weakness. When discussing salary negotiations, Lena Dunham tells LinkedIn, “Money is on the ways that you let people know you appreciate them. If you’re in the position to give someone a higher salary or a raise and you believe their work is great and your professional relationship is important to you, do it. You won’t regret making people feel proud of their contribution and valued.” Tom Bernthal, founder of the behemoth market research firm Kelton Global, warns that if you don’t hire outstanding people, your clients will only want to interact with you. Superbosses know how to build a team that works flawlessly in their absence.
Superbosses aren’t afraid to admit when they are wrong. They also aren’t afraid to try something new, even if their current methods are working. A superboss knows that in order to be relevant and stay at the top of their game, they can never stop learning and implementing new ways of running their business. According to a Harvard Business Review article, the best leaders in the world are the best learners: “Reinvention and relevance in the 21st century draw on our ability to adjust our way of thinking, learning, doing, and being. Leaders must get comfortable with living in a state of continually becoming, a perpetual beta mode.” Like fashion, a company is never finished. It is constantly evolving and experimenting with new strategies.
Superbosses “instill a sense of confidence and exceptionalism in their people,” argues Harvard Business Review. The publication recognizes Jay Chiat, founder of TBWA, a highly successful advertising agency based out of Los Angeles, as one example of a superboss. “Jay left something in people that makes it hard for you to go back to being ordinary. Once you feel it, you can’t change it,” says a former employee of Chiat’s. A former employee of Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle Corporation, tells Harvard Business Review that Ellison’s “ability to make exceptional people do the impossible” made him a superboss.
Nancy Meyer’s recent film The Intern opens with a scene of the CEO of a successful startup (played by Anne Hathaway) taking customer service calls. We don’t realize that she is the CEO until the scene is over. While part of a fictional movie, this kind of commitment to minute detail is what separates bosses from superbosses. Being able to delegate wisely is essential, but never separate yourself from the core product of your business. With Anne Hathaway’s fictional company, About the Fit, she never loses touch with her customers. That means taking the occasional customer service call or visiting the order fulfillment factory to make sure workers know how to pack orders properly. Superbosses also remain intimately involved with the progress of their employees. They give protégées an unusual amount of hands-on experience and then monitor their progress by offering instruction and intense feedback.
A proactive boss plans for the future. She doesn’t wait until a crisis occurs to react. Reactive people spend their time playing catch-up. They are never fully ahead of the curve and always feel a sense of panic or anxiety about the future. Superbosses, of course, embody the former. Sydney Finkelstein, a professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business and author of Superbosses, asks the question “Why would a person want to wait until he is on his deathbed before starting to eat right and exercise?” The same is true for a leader. Why wait until your company is suffering to implement change? Experiment with new technology before anyone else, learn about emerging markets before they become mainstream, acknowledge great work before your employees become discontent.
Bosses may feel threatened or territorial when their employees start befriending colleagues they deem to be part of “their network” not their employees’ network. Superbosses welcome openness and go out of their way to make personal introductions for their team members. Rather than be territorial about their networks, superbosses are happy to grant “membership” in their networks. They dismiss the notion of a zero-sum game where only so many people can be on top and embrace altruism. Helping others only strengthens their superbossness.
Superbosses dedicate a substantial amount of time and energy to finding the right people to work for them. They seek individuals who can “approach problems from new angles, handle surprises, learn quickly, and excel in any position.” Given their knack for seeking out unusually gifted people, superbosses are not disappointed when their employees decide to move on professionally. Instead, superbosses are happy to offer advice and guidance throughout those people’s lives and career changes. A superboss finds her employees and then commits to them regardless of whether or not they remain her employees. If you are selecting exceptional people, then they will one day become superbosses in their own right. It’s rewarding to help them achieve that and, thus, grow your network of talented leaders.
Sometimes the best founders don’t make the best CEOs, especially when their businesses scale far beyond the size of a small company. Take Sophia Amoruso for example. The founder of NastyGal and creator of the beloved #GirlBoss hashtag stepped down from her role as CEO last year. “While I find myself really capable of leading our customer,” Amoruso told Re/Code, “…the company needs a CEO with operational expertize and the ability to take Nasty Gal to the next level of maturity.” This kind of self-awareness makes Amoruso a superboss. The creator of the Nasty Gal brand is still the company’s executive chair and runs all creative and brand marketing efforts—what she loves and what she’s best at.
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Have you ever worked for a superboss? What characteristics of theirs did you most admire? Share with us in the comments.