Post No.: 0905
The greatest bosses see potential in others, continually nurture talent and develop great bosses in others, and of course produce results. They ensure those under them become successful too. They take pleasure in seeing others in their team flourish. And it works because this creates higher performing teams, regenerates the talent pool and helps with succession planning. So we should be recognising, recruiting, rewarding and replicating such leaders and managers.
They develop and progress the careers of those under their wings in a personalised way. They don’t need to rely on standard metrics to measure performance as much because they’re working amongst their people hence they know immediately what’s going on. They don’t care so much about ‘best practices’ but want to do the best without boundaries – they’re open to new ways of doing things, which often means exceeding the best practices of others. They’re visionary and brilliant at selling their vision to others (as discussed in Post No.: 0894). They retain an entrepreneurial mindset even as their role becomes more like a professional manager. They’re demanding, raise the bar and have high expectations (they understand that ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ in terms of performance and results) from others as well as themselves. They’re creative, inspiring, energetic, energising and make others feel valued and empowered. They can balance people and results, collegiality and competition, focusing on the team and on individuals, commanding in the spotlight and letting others take centre stage, having opinions without needing to feel like the smartest person in the room… The best bosses therefore inherently understand yin and yang.
You need to feel secure within yourself to be unafraid to make room for others to shine. These qualities of the finest bosses are relevant to parents, teachers, coaches and really anybody who leads, manages, teaches or raises anybody else. They’re the bosses we love and look back upon fondly.
According to professor Sydney Finkelstein, who researches what makes exceptional bosses – ‘superbosses’ can fall into one of three broad categories (although most bosses will possess some attributes from all categories, and whether they’re a right fit can depend on what industry or context they’re in).
Nurturers love nurturing others by consistently being there to guide and teach their protégés to help them reach new, soaring, heights. They’re far more present, available, sustained, all-encompassing, intense, caring and close than regular mentors. And they know that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to bringing the best out of each individual.
Iconoclasts are incredibly creative risk-takers. They like to surround themselves with other dynamic people, whom they can easily attract because their creativity is like a magnet to other creatives. This in turn helps advance their own craft because they’re most focused on their own work, their vision, and keeping it fresh.
And glorious bastards are severe taskmasters who push others hard because they’re single-minded on winning, personal fame and glory. They’re harsh and difficult to work for but if you can stand them, your career will accelerate. Now these types of bosses sound like many of the worst egotistical and uncaring bosses there are, and indeed some harsh taskmasters are the worst bosses there are – but the difference here is that they spawn star talent in others because they understand that in order to win, their success depends on the success of those around them.
People say the secret is to surround yourself with amazing people. So superbosses are always on the lookout for hiring new talent – like those with high general, emotional, creative and/or other types of intelligences, who are competitive, and flexible and open-minded to excel in a wide variety of interests and contexts.
And they aren’t insecure about hiring those who are better than them in any way, nor shy to hire talented people on the spot whenever and wherever they find them, even if there’s no job description ready for them yet. (This means that the next time a stranger wants to pick your brains about things, you could be effectively being interviewed by a superboss – every interaction is a potential opportunity so present yourself well!) They creatively search for talent in less-explored areas too, like those from different places or backgrounds, quiet people, autistic people, those with different skill sets, etc..
First-class bosses don’t micromanage yet don’t just delegate then forget either – they roll up their sleeves on a daily basis to directly help and support the work and team. It’s like a master and apprentice relationship. And they’re more like a sponsor than a mentor. Deep learning happens paws-on or on the job more than anywhere else. This is different to the bureaucratic, formal, fixed-scheduled, impersonal management, mentoring or learning processes we normally see today in corporations, where we can learn the technical skills well but not pick up the subtleties of a job, or the ‘softer skills’ like how to network, give and take feedback, negotiate, lead and crucially communicate or inspire others to get them on board with our ideas.
They’re adroit at overseeing and exerting control if and when necessary without stepping on anyone’s toes. They help and teach without making anyone feel incompetent or distrusted. If things are going fine then they leave people be. They don’t give advice out of egotistical reasons or fear but out of a genuine desire to help their team succeed. If you spend some time teaching your team – their performances will rise and you’ll trust them more, which in the long run will ease your own workload.
Incredible bosses see their job as being an informal teacher who may impart wisdom at any time they spot a relevant opportunity to. They may occasionally walk around their organisation looking for opportunities to share tips with those who may benefit. They give advice on how to conduct oneself professionally, disseminate points of knowledge regarding their craft, and share their wisdom or life lessons. They show how open they are to learning too – by asking plenty of questions and genuinely listening. Make even the ‘lowliest’ staff member feel safe to share their inputs and ideas with you. If you disagree then disagree without being rude. Don’t take it as an attack on your character – just your ideas or beliefs. Or changing your mind is okay if you’re convinced by other people’s arguments. It all creates a culture of learning and sharing knowledge between colleagues.
They treat their employees like they treat their best customers – by tail-oring their interactions to each individual to make the most from that relationship. Although it may appear fairer – and indeed fairness is vital – it’s not optimal to treat everyone generically when it comes to managing each individual because, say, some people need their egos checked whilst others need more assurances. Everyone’s personality, personal situations, aspirations, schedules, preferred ways of working and needs are a tad different. Understanding each protégé’s individual goals and customising your support for them will also build relationships, success and loyalty. Fantastic bosses are therefore adaptable and will adjust themselves (rather than solely expect others to adjust to them) to bring the best out of each individual. This runs against bosses searching for their ‘authentic style’ and sticking with it (unless your authentic style happens to be adaptable!) It’s more work, but care about your ‘employee engagement scores’ as much as your ‘customer engagement scores’.
They give opportunities to anyone who has the potential for something greater, no matter which department or current role they come from. It’s so powerful a moment when someone important sees something in us and believes in us, when we ourselves might not have believed in us. It gives us a massive confidence and motivation boost. And we can do this for others! These bosses will vitally also give their protégé’s support, a safety net, but will slowly remove that and entrust them to do things on their own once they’ve demonstrated they can.
They give opportunities to those who don’t feel confident in themselves to put themselves forwards, like women more than men, introverts more than extroverts, or the under-privileged more than privileged, generally. That’s only step one though – they also crucially give them ongoing practical and emotional support, for understanding their backgrounds and the systemic obstacles they face compared to others, in order to truly give them a chance.
Bureaucracy ensures things are done properly for safety and ethics, for risk and cost assessments, etc., but sometimes it becomes too burdensome that it needs to be quashed. Hierarchies should be flattened; unnecessary status differentials ditched. Everybody should have access to the CEO without gatekeepers. Staff meetings should be open to all whom a topic applies to, not just senior managers. All this won’t be suitable for all organisations but it increasingly is in this hybrid-working world.
You should try to retain your top talent as best as possible. Yet some personnel whom you’ve nurtured will inevitably wish to leave for one reason or another. You cannot force them to stay, and it wouldn’t help to get angry or sulk. (Former employees, clients and business partners will remember how you’ve treated them in the past for a long time, and they’ll share their grrrievances about you with the world!) But as long as your ethos is to continually develop (and thus be attractive to) new talent – they can be replaced. In order for middle managers to be ready for a promotion themselves, they’ll need to have trained their successor to fill their vacating position anyway. And even when no one’s leaving, you’ll want to train people to the level you can count on for the days you’re ‘away from the office’ – the place shouldn’t collapse after a few days just because you’re not there! Plus it’s better to have magnificent people for a short period than mediocre people long-term.
So outstanding bosses focus on leveraging the maximum talents of their ambitious protégés while they have them, by developing them and giving them opportunities to thrive. Like romantic partners, the less we try to cage them, the more they’ll tend to want to stay with you anyway. And if you’re a CEO, there may be ways to still get a return on your investment for nurturing them if, say, a protégé wishes to rise to a position of CEO themselves – by partnering up with them in a new spin-off company where they’ll be CEO. Try to capture as much tacit knowledge as possible from individuals before they leave your organisation. One can at least keep in touch, sustain informal partnerships with and keep them within one’s network, which may bring future business opportunities one’s way and make one’s organisation more robust going forwards. So let go, stay in touch, and help out. Knowing that some of your best talent is leaving with your imparted knowhow should drive you to keep innovating to keep one step ahead too.
Maintaining your alumni network requires work – it won’t just automatically happen. Just keep in casual contact with former employees and they’ll be there for you when you need them. It can be as swift as a short e-mail, text or call whenever you can. See where you can help them? Certainly don’t just contact them when you absolutely need them because people see right through that – they’ll know you’re only suddenly interested in how they’re doing because you need them! So make a plan to regularly check in with everyone, perhaps at least once every 3-6 months. Ask about what they’re up to? Do they have any big news? Big plans? Are they happy in their careers? Is there anything you can help them out with? Think aloud with them about potential opportunities for collaboration. Fill them in about your activities, accomplishments and plans too. And crucially record the key information they share with you and the dates.
…Overall, it’s about making a positive impact on other people’s lives – and that feels wonderful!