Are Great People Overrated or Just Under-Evaluated?

08/18/2011 01.45 EDT

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I just finished Bill Taylor’s blog on HBR, entitled “Great People Are Overrated”.  It’s quite an interesting read.  While I encourage you to take a look at it yourselves, at its barest essence, Taylor’s position is that if offered the choice between having one superstar in his organization versus a group of solid contributors who can work as a team, he’ll take the team every time.  He posits this assertion in opposition to Mark Zuckerberg’s statement in a New York Times article earlier this year that “Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good.  They are 100 times better.”  Although it’s my job to recruit star performers for my clients, I generally think Taylor is right (but perhaps not for the reasons he thinks he is).   Throughout my career, I have seen smart people fail in organizations more times than I can count, especially in my early days as an outplacement consultant for Right Management.  They rarely failed because they were technically incompetent; in fact, they often were brilliant in their fields of expertise.  So why did they fall short?  In my opinion, their disappointing performance was based on the fact that they lacked the people and communication skills to lead an organization.  They were virtuoso performers miscast in roles that required conductors; in the end, really not their fault, but a huge indictment of the assessment and selection practices of the firms that hired...