Do leaders matter?

The Better Workplace Conference (Oct 16-18 in Vancouver) posted a blog on its Facebook page by Guatam Mukunda, who suggests that leaders matter less than we may think.

Mukunda offers and important counterpoint to the “great man” (invariably) model of corporate leadership that has prevailed in business literature. But he overstates the case that leaders don’t matter. More accurately, leaders are constrained in their actions. But they still have positional power that, depending on how they use it, can have positive or negative effects on performance, including investor confidence and staff morale. Think of RIM, HP and Yahoo — all companies that should have changed CEOs sooner or selected different people than they did.

His orchestra example also raises interesting implications. Are there leaderless orchestras? Of course, a musical ensemble without a conductor standing at the front has leaders. Each musician leads by knowing, watching, and listening to all the others, and there is an informal leader (or formal in some cases — the concert master of lead violin) who gets them started on a piece. So in the corporate world, how can those with positional leadership foster this sort of orchestral teamwork?