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A Few Pointers from the Superboss Playbook

A football legend and a fashion mogul might seem worlds apart, at least on the surface.

But the late Bill Walsh—a three-time Super Bowl champion with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s and the standard for every NFL coach that has come since—shares quite a few leadership traits with Ralph Lauren, the iconic fashion designer, executive chairman and chief creative officer at the Ralph Lauren Corp., the multibillion-dollar organization he founded fifty years ago.

At the i4cp 2018 Conference (to be held March 26 – 29 at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Scottsdale, AZ.), professor and best-selling author Sydney Finkelstein--who was just ranked once again as a global Thinker50 member--will highlight some of the characteristics that helped leaders such as Walsh, Lauren, SNL creator Lorne Michaels, and Mary Kay Cosmetics founder Mary Kay Ash reach the pinnacle of their respective professions.

Finkelstein, the Steven Roth professor of management and faculty director at Dartmouth University’s Tuck Center for Leadership, has studied the aforementioned leaders—and many others who have experienced similar success—for more than a decade. In that time, he’s gained insight into the shared strategies they have employed and leveraged that knowledge to help average employees become standouts, standouts become superstars, and superstars become world-class performers within their organizations.

Such leaders, Finkelstein says, are very entrepreneurial when it comes to talent. “In the way that entrepreneurs are always looking for new businesses and ideas, these leaders are always looking for people. They’re open-minded about who can help them in different situations.”

Finding Hidden Potential

Finkelstein’s new book Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent, examines how top leaders have transformed organizations and influenced entire industries. At i4cp 2018, Finkelstein will guide attendees through the “Superboss Playbook,” a primer for applying these leaders’ practices in other corporate settings.

“People sometimes say that leaders are born. But that’s just not accurate when you look carefully at these leaders. The playbook is, in a sense, a dissection of all these different things that these people from these different walks of professional life share,” says Finkelstein. “That’s what I’m going to focus on, from motivational skills to the ability to build innovation-minded cultures and develop people in different ways.”

An average manager or executive, for example, might be adept at recognizing high-potential employees and grooming them for leadership roles down the road.  Superbosses create high-potential employees, says Finkelstein.

“This is a much more powerful thing to do. They create a cultural machine, really, that creates other leaders and helps them get better. That’s critical.” 

Creating a Winning Culture

Regardless of industry, the end result of seeking and finding “unlikely winners,” says Finkelstein, is that “you end up being able to not only get a lot more out of people that others have bypassed, but those people ultimately have a bigger role than they thought they could.

“And, even when they leave, as people do, they’re loyal,” he continues. “But, even when they leave, they want to stay connected. In many cases, they’re like proteges, and they come back years later.”

Exceptional leaders in any professional arena can learn to spot and tap into unrealized potential, and—just as importantly—must be willing to let these talented individuals help steer the ship, says Finkelstein.  

“While they know what they want accomplished and they know their vision, the greatest leaders don’t feel like they have a monopoly on the path to getting there.”

That path can and should include a few twists and turns, and a bit of trial and error.

“Part of being a successful leader is building a culture where it’s OK to make mistakes,” says Finkelstein. “Being open to experimentation and doing things that are not automatically going to work are essential to creating an innovative and agile organization. If you punish or blame people for making mistakes, then you’re going to be discouraging adaptive behavior. And that’s the behavior you want.”

Fostering a culture that encourages creativity and flexibility ideally leads to innovation and bigger bottom lines, and acts as a magnet for talented individuals eager to be a part of such an environment, he says.

See Sydney Finkelstein speak at the i4cp 2018 Conference – sign up by Dec. 8, 2017 to save $400 .