How Superbosses Can Boost Your Career

By WomenAdvancing Archives
Cover image for  article: How Superbosses Can Boost Your Career

Every business has its legendary leaders. Fashion has Ralph Lauren. Food has Alice Waters. Comedy has Lorne Michaels. Football has Bill Walsh. But these folks don't work alone. A critical talent of visionaries like these is the ability to build the team to make their ideas a reality. That's where you come in. The dedicated team member. The ambitious middle manager making her way up the ranks. The wide-eyed entry-level scrub.  Without those who execute, a vision is nothing more than a figment of the imagination.

Sydney Finkelstein's insightful new book Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent chronicles the luminaries who transformed their industries through leadership, vision and grit. I had a chance to speak to Sydney, but I wasn't so interested in the superbosses themselves as I was the people they hired. What qualities do you need to land a job with a superboss?  And since superbosses are somewhat rare, how can you get what you need from the boss you already have? How can you become a uperboss someday yourself?

After a decade of research as a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, Sydney identified many ways to reap the careers benefits of a superboss even if you don't have one. Here are five:

  1. Make yourself important to your boss.Superbosses cherish high performers because these team members have the most impact on results.  Commit to doing your job to the best of your ability. The more valuable you are to your boss, the more she'll listen to you and seek out your advice.  Don't waste your time managing up; just figure out how to be great at managing your job. 
  1. Improve your ability to deliver creative solutions.  Superbosses love to unleash creativity -- it's a defining characteristic shared by all of them. Have the confidence to offer ideas that may seem crazy on the surface but have gravitas and demonstrate your problem-solving acumen. If you feel your creative skills are lacking, practice creative techniques. Creativity is highly valued in today's business world.
  1. Don't waste time trying to figure out what your boss wants.Sometimes a superboss's vision may be so innovative that it's hard to grasp or interpret. Or in some cases, your boss may not have the time to be articulate. Either way, it's your job to execute. So don't try to guess what she wants. Encourage your boss to express her expectations and repeat them back. She'll appreciate your need for clarification.
  1. Be energizing and excited to go to work!  The worst thing you can do is be transactional about your team's work.  Everyone needs a vision. Why are we doing this? Why do we want to achieve these goals? Ask these questions of your boss and share these insights with your team members. Your enthusiasm is motivating to others.
  1. Don't hesitate to ask for opportunities and, more importantly, coaching. If you're eager to learn, let your boss know you're willing to stretch yourself on a project she may not think you're ready for. And one of the best things you can do is ask for a regular meeting -- say, once a month. Don't go in with specific problems; rather go in asking for comments, feedback, advice and ideas. Open discussion is a great way to strengthen your relationship with your boss.

Finally, Sydney offered up one cautionary note:  Don't ever tell your boss you want to pick her brain.  Beside the fact that it's not an attractive metaphor, it's a pet peeve of his, and most bosses, too.

Have questions for Professor Finkelstein? Reach out to him on Twitter @sydfinkelstein.

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