Yet, especially in the case of large, well-established businesses, retained earnings, goodwill, momentum and market share are far more influential factors than whoever claims to be captain of the ship.
One company I know fired its chief executive two years ago, and has since been run by an ad hoc committee of senior staff. Progress during the period has been spectacular, in spite of having to compete in a tough sector and a patchy track record in the past.
Of course, defined leadership is preferable to a confused structure, but the potential for one man or woman to make that much impact on a corporate outcome is wildly exaggerated. Nevertheless, such a belief suits our prejudice of how management actually works - and it suits the leadership class, as well as the headhunters and pay consultants.
We know the best businesses have talent in depth. It is as if there are always two companies: there is the artificial, external impression with a spotlight on a single hero, and then there is the true picture, where dozens or hundreds of key people do the work that matters.
The finest leaders I have dealt with possess three qualities above all else: skill as a listener, skill as a delegator and skill as a motivator. These traits require a degree of modesty scarce among those ambitious enough to clamber to the top.
Such thrusting figures often possess considerable egos and want to maximise personal glory. By contrast, wise bosses know that progress is rarely achieved through noisy triumphs, like imagined events in fiction, but through unflashy, incremental steps that take time and a team effort. This runs counter to the desire for headlines and simplistic answers and our thirst for personalities. The reality is that a consistent 5 per cent annual growth rate still doubles the size of a company every 14 years and is likely to create a much sounder enterprise than a more frantic display.