Can a Single Person Fail a Whole Organization?

James clear
A leader who fails in the three aspects means a failure to the organization. Photo Courtesy of James Smart.


Up to early last week I kept wondering. I was closing in on the question that forms the topic of my writing today. The idea that a company is too big to fail because of a single person is utterly untrue; or at least for me. A single individual can lead to the collapse of a whole conglomerate or even institution.

It is very likely to be faster especially if that person forms part of the top management and it is even sure to come the fastest if the individual is at the very top. It thus means that the success of a business depends on the people that manage it as much as they depend on the market and customers.

As the new decade begins to roll by, some businesses are toddlers. Others are about to or have already celebrated their transition from being children to teenagers. Globally; other businesses are celebrating as high as their centenary anniversaries.

It’s no doubt true that some businesses die out too soon even before they see their third birthday while others live to celebrate a hundred or even two hundred years. Well, some fail due to circumstances beyond their control but in most cases it is about the people.

When Steve Jobs hired Pepsi CEO John Sculley to come and provide leadership to Apple, he knew he had found a perfect match. But after his ouster instigated by the board chair and supported by Sculley, Apple started going south too fast. By the early and mid-nineties, its death was sure. But the return of Steve jobs to the helm of the company changed the game immediately.

Being interviewed years later about the period of departure and his return, Steve remarked how sorry he was that he had hired John Sculley in the first place. I have always wondered by myself why the heavy blame falls squarely on John when on the other hand he was acting together with the board. Probably the board chair and members needs blame in equal measure.

But as a matter of fact, John had the choice to follow the right path or advice the board otherwise yet he did decide to side with them which may translate to mean he didn’t clearly understand the vision that founded the company as well as didn’t look far into the future and see where the really opportunities lied.

That is why the blame ends up lying with him. The failure of Apple within those years was as a result of lack of proper leadership from the CEO. It even becomes worse with the knowledge that he had had a successful corporate stint at Pepsi. Simply to mean he was experienced with a lot of corporate wealth.

In the most recent past, the hammer has fallen on Anil Ambani’s Reliance ADA Group. The guy who has seen nature “conspire” to work against him has virtually lost his wealth to non-performing businesses mostly funded by credit from banks and other shareholders. The poor performance has seen Anil liquidate as well as relieve his shareholding in part of those businesses to service the loans.

In the course of my reading last week, I came across a post that set the whole fail of the chain of businesses under Anil’s care in his very hands. It hinted on the promises the businesses held from the very beginning. And their failure could not have happened unless Anil himself wished the failure by failing in his roles as the man at the top.

The article hinted that he inherited businesses that needed a lot of innovation as time went by. The failure by Anil to provide that leadership, innovative thinking as well as strategic alignment of the businesses according to market changes led to their failure or so as suggested. The blame lied on him alone.

Simply to mean that one person can lead to the failure of a business however big it can be. And The Titanic is a good example to show us how failure of a single person can lead to a disaster.

In maneuvering the sea, there is a team that navigates the paths to clear the captain to voyage ahead. Someone failed to do proper their work well and seemingly as small as ice berg appearing on the surface of the ocean, meant that a bigger junk could have been covered in the water. It needed a rapid action to be taken.

Being at night and with the idea that the Titanic was too big to sink, led probably to some careless leadership decisions. Even from the start when only a few life bags were put into the ship with the belief that the ship was so advanced to sink led to more loss of lives than could not have happened had enough safety life bags been loaded onto the ship.

A single person, making a wrong single decision, taking a wrong single leap could lead a whole organization and business to its death bed.

Don’t be that person. Understand the vision, put the mission to heart and work your butt out to make sure your do your part to the very best. And if you see things going south, don’t keep quiet. Take the proper step and change the course of the sail.

As failure can be credited to a single person, so can success. Which one could you prefer?




Geoffrey Ndege

Geoffrey Ndege

Geoffrey Ndege is the Editor and topical contributor for the Daily Focus. He writes in the areas of Science, Manufacturing, Technology, Innovation, Governance, Management and International Emerging Issues. For featuring, promotions or support, reach out to us at
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