Leaders Don’t Matter (Most of the Time)

Leaders don’t matter. That might seem hard to believe. Any large group needs a leader to function, right? How good can an orchestra be without a conductor? From Zubin Mehta to Leonard Bernstein, great conductors seem an integral component of great classical music. Someone needs to make sure the woodwinds don’t come in too early and the percussionists don’t drown everyone else out.The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, though, has received multiple Grammies and is regarded as one of the finest orchestras in the world — without a conductor. It turns out that professional musicians can organize themselves without a formal leader just fine.

That’s all well and good for an orchestra, but surely a company the size of GE couldn’t function very well for very long if it didn’t have a CEO. That’s true. But the fact that GE needs a CEO doesn’t mean that it matters who the CEO is. There are three reasons — first laid out in a classic article by sociologists Stanley Lieberson and James F. O’Connor — why the identity of the leader probably matters less than you think.

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