Darth Vader, Yoda and How to be a Superboss

superbossDarth Vader and the Emperor were onto something.

We may not agree with how they did it (murder and oppression should never be options), but they did rule the galaxy for a long time and laid the foundation for an enduring empire that’s still powerful… in a galaxy far, far away. Key to their system was the master/apprentice relationship practiced by the Sith Lords. As Yoda said: “Always two there are: No more no less. A master and an apprentice.”

This concept, once the model of training, isn’t actively practiced much these days. According to Sydney Finkelstein, professor and director of the Center for Leadership at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, apprenticeships do not exist in today’s world of leadership and management. A practice that was observed for thousands of years, one even Leonardo da Vinci was a part of, faded away.

Except for Superbosses. They are the exceptions who are actively cultivating apprentices.

Professor Finkelstein explained the concept of the Superboss in a recent session of ExecuNet Master Class. “Superbosses are like entrepreneurs, but instead of business ideas, they are always on the lookout for talent they can develop,” said Finkelstein, citing Larry Ellison, Lorne Michaels, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Frist, Bill Walsh, and many others as examples.

“To thrive as an organization you need great leaders who are able to generate and regenerate talent on a continuous basis,” said Finkelstein. Superbosses understand this and break down the barriers that could hold back their best talent, customizing their experiences to fit their needs within the organization rather than having a standardized “this is how we do things” approach. This customization is key. Employees need to be treated like the individuals they are. They need to be treated like customers. This is how you build world-class teams and organizations. This is how you build loyalty. You give people customized opportunity. You help them stretch themselves and accomplish more than they ever thought possible. “That’s what the master/apprentice relationship does. Big delegation. Big opportunities. Very hands-on. They are teachers,” said Finkelstein.

Superbosses tend to combine aspects that are counterintuitive. They have an uncompromising belief in the vision and unleash the intelligence, flexibility, creativity, and competitiveness of the people around them.

Seeking to be authentic and true to themselves, leaders today expect their employees to adjust to them. That type of leader doesn’t create a solid pipeline of talent, enduring loyalty, or organizational flexibility.

Do you have to be a Ralph Lauren type, conquering galaxies or industries, to be a Superboss?

No! Everyday businesspeople like us can follow Professor Finkelstein’s playbook for being a Superboss. They are found in every industry, nonprofits, military, public service, etc., and anyone who is leading a team can be a Superboss. Being the head of a company is not a requirement to be a Superboss; they are simply the most visible.

The recording of his session of ExecuNet Master Class, Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent,provides an overview of the topic and will get you moving in the direction of becoming a Superboss. Attendees of the live event called the class:

  • “Full of real examples, both in leaders and behaviors.”
  • “Valuable and informative, opens your mind to looking at things in a different way.”
  • “Inspiring, thoughtful, insightful.”
  • “Insightful and doable steps to becoming a better leader.”

Check out the recording. Professor Finkelstein was fascinating, and you’ll be a better leader for it!

Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson is ExecuNet's president and chief economist. An Arjay Miller Scholar, Mark received his MBA from Stanford University and a BA in economics from Yale University. He joined ExecuNet in 1993, with extensive marketing and new product and business development experience, having served as president and founder of A&M Associates, an investment management firm. Mark's corporate leadership experience includes several senior marketing and financial positions with RCA Global Communications (a GE subsidiary) and American Can Company.

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