Home » Jobs » Library Superbosses Lead By Creating Careers | Leading from the Library

Library Superbosses Lead By Creating Careers | Leading from the Library

Steven BellIt makes sense. Great bosses create workplaces where staff want to be. Lousy bosses make staff miserable so they quit and go elsewhere and try to recover. What exactly does a superboss do?

Have you ever known a superboss? A superboss is more than just a good leader who runs the type of library where staff members want to work and community members want to be. A superboss creates a library legacy primarily through two actions: First, there is a unique ability to identify top talent, staff members who exhibit tremendous potential to do great things. Second, there is leader development at a high level that produces a next generation of library leaders who go out and do great things on their own. To be a superboss means putting the future career success of the library’s executive team or unit heads ahead of one’s own selfish desires to keep subordinates under control and in place. The superboss takes pride in knowing she has given staff opportunities for leadership development, and may be sorry to see good people go on to new jobs but does so knowing they deserve their chance to take the reins and deliver on their own library leadership vision.


Superboss is hardly the term I would have come up with for the type of leader described above. I might go with the familiar “remarkable leader,” but perhaps there needs to be a more distinctive way to describe a leader who is particularly skilled at developing staff, or whose track record demonstrates an ability to produce subordinates who go out and do great things on their own. A good case is made for the superboss in Sydney Finklestein’s article “Jon Stewart, Superboss.” Finkelstein became interested in the track records of leaders who could be linked to the rise of an industry’s top leaders. He did this by examining fields where the top 50 most prominent or influential individuals could be connected back to one or two leaders who had employed a disproportionate share of those 50. He came up with a group of superbosses across industries and found that “although their personalities varied, these bosses all demonstrated an unusual, even legendary ability to develop the best talent in their industries.” These superbosses are a diverse group, from Lorne Michaels and Oprah Winfrey in entertainment, to Ralph Lauren in fashion, and Bill Walsh in professional sports. One individual in particular has a truly impressive track record.


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