Leader Development: An Option or An Obligation?

When did taking responsibility for developing the next generation of leaders move you to a “super boss” category? Aren’t all leaders charged with creating a succession of talent that is prepared to take greater leadership responsibility?

In his insightful and typically well-researched book, Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Manage the Flow of Talent, Sydney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth Professor of Management and Director of the Leadership Center at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth explores what separates leaders like Larry Ellison, Bill Wash, George Lucas, and Mary Kay Ash from the mass of people leading organizations. While I fully embrace his conclusions, it is disheartening to think the characteristics Finkelstein identifies are exceptions, rather than the rule for effective leaders.

Finkelstein identifies five personality traits these “elite” leaders share. He states they are confident, competitive, imaginative, they act with integrity, and they aren’t afraid to be authentic. Any organization with leaders who lack these characteristics ultimately pays for the gaps these people create—in both profitability and long-term viability.

The list of behaviors these Superbosses demonstrate is one any aspiring leader would be wise to explore and embrace. Finkelstein observed that, among several traits, these leaders—

  • Focus on intelligence, creativity, and flexibility in hiring
  • Adapt the job to fit the talent
  • Accept that great talent will move up or out of the company
  • Set high expectations
  • Aren’t afraid to delegate
  • Continue mentoring after the emerging leader leaves the organization

What separates the 18 leaders Finkelstein puts in the class of Superbosses ought to be the goal and game plan for any leader who wants to create an organization that can succeed, even flourish now and in the future. As Tom Peters stated it, “Leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders.”

You can read a great summary of Finklestein’s conclusions at Harvard Business Review.