Chapter | Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice | 2010

When Does Leadership Matter? A Contingent Opportunities View of CEO Leadership

by Noam Wasserman, Nitin Nohria and Bharat Anand


There is by now a long-standing debate on the impact that CEOs have on company performance. Studies of leadership describe how CEOs can significantly impact company performance, while the "constraints" perspective argues that leaders are sufficiently constrained by their environments, and that their ability to impact performance is limited. This paper seeks to alter the framing of this debate by asking, instead, "When does leadership matter?" We develop a "contingent opportunities" theory of leadership and empirically examine our predictions on a dataset of 531 companies from 42 industries from 1979 to 1997. We show that CEO impact differs markedly by industry, and that CEOs have the most significant impact where opportunities are scarce or where CEOs have slack resources.

Keywords: Business Ventures; Leadership; Performance Improvement; Research; Opportunities;


Wasserman, Noam, Nitin Nohria, and Bharat Anand. "When Does Leadership Matter? A Contingent Opportunities View of CEO Leadership." Chap. 2 in Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, edited by Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana. Harvard Business Press, 2010.