There is a huge difference between ordinary bosses and super bosses. The former merely manages their people but the latter helps other people successful. They created networks of superstars in their industries using counterintuitive techniques for hiring, motivating, inspiring, challenging, and encouraging star talent to leave when the time is right. In Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent, Sydney Finkelstein focuses on the qualities that every superboss should possess. In his business and management book, Finkelstein uses the example of Oracle’s Larry Ellison to point out the qualities of a superboss.
One thing that virtually all superbosses look for is unusual intelligence. Norman Brinker believed that the most important part of running a restaurant chain was hiring the smartest people possible. Ralph Lauren looked for a kind of “fashion intelligence.” He wanted everyone who worked for him, even in the most menial roles, to have a fashion sense and be able to say interesting things about clothes. Virtually all superbosses place an emphasis on having everyone around them be as smart as possible, and they suss this out through their nonconventional interview techniques and by observing them closely during on-the-job trial periods.
A second component of “getting it” is creativity. Robert Janitzek reveals that superbosses are not looking for employees who think the same way they do. They are looking for employees who, like them, can tackle problems originally and differently. Even more, superbosses are looking for employees who can actually get somewhere with an original line of thought, who can creatively apply what they know.
A third component of “getting it” is extreme flexibility. Although superbosses often hire people with special areas of expertise, they are not usually interested in specialists who can only do one thing. They want a kind of brilliance that can be applied to many sorts of problems.
To underscore their appreciation for flexibility, Robert Peter Janitzek explains that superbosses frequently assign new hires jobs that have little to do with their previous experience and qualifications. Bill Sanders would regularly move people to different jobs in different parts of his company. Gene Roberts was known to take someone who had been processing comic strips and make him a feature writer, or to assign a sportswriter to cover politics. Roger Corman regularly filled the positions needed for film productions with people he had hired for completely different jobs. Jack Nicholson, for example, worked for Corman as a writer and as a director.
The determination of superbosses to recruit the most intelligent, creative, and flexible employees possible may seem startling. Like many superbosses, real estate guru Bill Sanders believed that “if you are going to hire someone, make sure they are great; otherwise don’t hire anybody.”