Without Jon Stewart, “The Daily Show” will never be the same.
But according to leadership expert Sydney Finkelstein, it’s not for the reason most people assume.
Finkelstein, a management professor in Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business and the author of the forthcoming book “Superbosses: How Great Leaders Build Unstoppable Networks of Talent,” believes there’s one big reason we should mourn Stewart’s departure: His mentorship has helped countless great comedians get their start.
“If you take the top fifty most prominent or influential people in many industries, just one or a few top people mentored a disproportionate share of that talent,” Finkelstein wrote recently in the Harvard Business Review.
He calls these people “superbosses.”
Stewart is one of those superbosses, Finkelstein says. And he knows that because he’s studied “mountains of interview transcripts and secondary materials” and arrived at a key trait of superbosses: They further other people’s careers.
With “The Daily Show” as his platform, Jon Stewart has helped launch the careers of Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Ed Helms, Kristen Schaal, and Rob Corddry. In time, beloved “Daily Show” correspondent Jessica Williams is sure to find her way onto that list.
The reach of his impact is eclipsed perhaps only by “Saturday Night Live” sage Lorne Michaels, who has been propelling comedy greats through the SNL machine since the show’s inception.
“What was Stewart’s secret?” Finkelstein asks.
“Superbosses,” he says, “are exceptionally adept at developing talent because they share particular character traits and adopt a set of common practices that, taken together, are both rare and extraordinarily effective.”
They set impossibly high standards yet expect them to be met. They motivate and inspire, even if what they inspire is sometimes fear. They demand excellence, but insist upon trust and support between teammates even more.
Many have said Stewart will take something with him when he finally leaves the show — edginess, insight, his many Yiddish phrases. Finkelstein adds another to the list: the insurance that comedy will remain so great.
“Many of us aim for financial or professional success,” he writes. “Stewart achieved both by helping others to build their careers and realise their full potential.”
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