Ok, it's the name of this blog and has been for a long time, but does leadership really matter—at least to the bottom line?
Bloomberg Business Week and the Hayes Group published a survey for 2010 identifying the top 20 Best Companies for Leadership. The list includes many of those you would expect like Southwest Airlines, 3M, Zappos and General Electric.
In a comparison of what organizations value in leaders there were a number of significant differences. For example, both groups valued the ability of leaders to think strategically and to execute as the top two dimensions. However, for the majority of respondents, next in value was decision-making followed very closely by technical expertise. For the Top 20, the third most important was inspiring leadership while technical expertise came in last.
In a comparison of financial results, the Top 20 beat the S&P 500 consistently. For 2008 where the S&P dropped 37%, the Top 20 averaged a gain of 1.6%.
It may be that those companies at the top understand that they cannot succeed by sheer expertise alone. The primary difference between technical expertise and an ability to inspire is the difference between a high individual contributor and a highly effective team.
Expertise alone will only get a leader so far. The ability to inspire others to join in the journey is the ability to exponentially increase the effort toward a common goal. That increased effort not only creates a more engaged workforce but a more successful company overall.