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Don’t confuse brilliance with Vision

Apologies for the Yoda-like speech pattern, but a brilliant Processor doth not a Visionary make.

Some Processors are truly geniuses in how they use their P skills, but the sheer brilliance they exude in doing so is not the same as being a Visionary – even though, at first glance or from a distance they might look the same.

Some companies – especially in the tech arena – are suffering from this category error. It took Jerry Yang almost 15 years to work this out (even though Yahoo [YHOO] shareholders got there long before he did). Everybody realized it in the case of Bill Gates at Microsoft [MSFT] (including I think, Bill Gates himself). I believe time will show it to be true of Larry Page at Google [GOOG].

Tech isn’t alone in making this mistake, mind you. Vikram Pandit is a P struggling mightily at Citibank [C] at a time when it desperately needs a V. Leo Apotheker fooled no-one in his short, ignominious stay at HP [HWP].

That’s not to say there aren’t times when a Processor isn’t the right person to lead a company – BP [BP] needed one a decade ago, and if it had one, it might have avoided the recent spill disaster. JetBlue [JBLU] needed one coming out of the David Neieleman Whitewater experience, and Netflix [NFLX] could do with one now. Almost all of Japanese industry benefitted from Processor leadership in the 80’s.

Just don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve got a Visionary leader when you’ve actually got a pyrotechnically brilliant Processor – it’s a very expensive mistake to make.

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