Is great leadership a requirement?
Let’s not assume that great leaders are necessary for success. Success in business requires a number of ingredients, and if you get some of them right, you can make progress. I like to cook and occasionally I produce something that is pretty good, maybe even darn good, just not as good as it could be. Some organizations succeed—at least for a short while—with poor leaders. How?
Timing is important in business. Hit a market on the upswing and you may be very successful even if you have significant weaknesses in your personal or business capabilities. You might have been born on third base, thinking you hit a triple or you might feel like the luckiest person on the planet, but timing (even luck!) can play a big role in success.
Strategy is important in business. Identify how you will distinguish yourself from the competition and you may be very successful. Truthfully, I don’t’ see well crafted and articulated strategy come from weak leaders very often, but I do have examples of the mercurial, self absorbed leader who comes up with a great idea that can win the battle—though not usually the war.
Having the right team is important in business. Unless you are an entrepreneur with a small company who relies primarily on your own bag of tricks, you won’t optimize the potential of your business unless you have a strong team. As Jim Collins said, you must have the right people on the bus. If you have a strong team around you, you might succeed for a short while with poor leadership capabilities, but talented people like to work for talented leaders so your situation is tenuous at best.
What ties timing, strategy and teams together is leadership. Whether you are talking about business, a church, the military or your local elementary school, leadership really matters. You can look to your own experience in those institutions and see what a difference a talented leader makes.
Great leaders however, can fail. Nobody bats 1000 in the business world. If their timing is bad, their strategy incorrect or their team weak, they probably won’t get far. There are many examples of leaders who have succeeded in one environment and failed in others. Smart business, however, is the business of playing the odds and the odds are that without a strong leader, the business will not succeed.