How Important Is Leadership—Really?


Leaders define an organization. Leaders inspire employees to achieve terrific heights. Leaders make the difference between success and failure.… Or do they?

A recent survey of 1,000 employees suggests otherwise. Conducted by the Communications for Executive Council, the study reveals that employees value connection with their fellow employees over big-personality leaders—1.6 times more, to be exact.

Tools and resources won out over charismatic leadership for 75 percent of those surveyed. Just under a quarter of the group (24 percent) were inspired by their leaders, and only 31 percent felt the leadership respected their opinions. As few as 29 percent said leaders shared the reasoning behind their decision making with workers.

Employees who adore their organization perform better than the lukewarm … don’t they? Wrong again. There is little perceivable difference in the performance of employees who sort of like your organization and those who love it. Even building pride in an organization fails to raise productivity levels.

It is only when employees feel connected with and supported by their coworkers that researchers observe a noticeable difference in their performance. Building a stronger interpersonal network encourages employees to learn from and consult each other when they hit a stumbling block. They feel buoyed rather than threatened by their peers, and this connectedness sets the stage for a more productive work environment.

A survey echoed these findings across the pond. For 70 percent of the 1,000 UK employees surveyed, the number one factor contributing to job happiness was workplace friendships.

Those of us familiar with Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness are not surprised. Even though the Zappos founder is an iconic example of inspirational leadership, he recognizes that happiness is found not within a single person but in the spaces between them (see Chapter 7, p. 34). The cultural fabric of an organization emerges from the overlapping intersections of the warp and woof, not the individual thread.

But that’s not to say leaders are insignificant. Leadership style matters. Those leaders who encourage employees to connect, share resources, and participate in the decision making process have a 1.6 times greater impact on the bottom line than cult-of-personality leaders.

A little less ra ra ra and a little more kumbaya may well be the key to organizational success. Happiness researchers know friendships play a key role in employee engagement, which in turn influences performance. Indeed, that is one of Zappos’ secret weapons—by consistently hiring employees who already share their core values, Zappos cultivates an organic culture with deep, interlocking roots rather than manufacturing an astroturf one.

Do these findings jibe with your experiences, whether as a leader or an employee? Have you felt the difference between a workplace where you were closely connected with your peers and one that centered around a magnetic personality? Which environment felt happier—and more productive?


  1. Chris,
    Thank you for the article. I think that most folks really don’t have a true leader (vision) to follow. So I think that is why the percentages are low. Most organizations are a lot of talk and little action. People get disenfranchised with their organization and then eventually leave. I also agree that leadership is not just ra ra ra, but team building.

    Thank you. Have a great day!

  2. Great article Chris! I agree. At my company peers are expected to collaborate and recognize one another for upholding the values of the company. It is a productive environment. I prefer working in teams where we depend on each other and encourage one another. It makes going to work fun and rewarding.

  3. Interesting article Chris. Working in an artistic educational environment, it is really important to connect with my colleagues. Whenever we can meet to exchange pedagogical or personal reflections on works in progress is always a treat, although often rare.

  4. I agree with the point that Don Jensen was making. It’s not that leaders aren’t important, it’s that good leaders are hard to find. I think the reason for this is that most people WANT to be a leader, but very few truly have the talent to do so. Yes, good leadership is a talent, not just a skillset. While many leadership skills can be learned (or taught), there are intangible qualities of leadership that have to be an innate part of someone’s personality for them to reach a higher level of quality in leadership. Your degree may qualify you to be a “leader”, but that doesn’t necessarily make you one.

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