I've been spending a lot of time recently thinking about what the essential elements of a successful corporation are. I can name more than a dozen factors that can lead to success and a variety of content, but which ones are absolute necessities?
One of those that I continue to value highly is having a group of dedicated FCs. Note the qualification... I used the word dedicated, not excellent, successful, brilliant, or innovative. The characteristic that seems to be most important is the willingness to consistently lead fleets.
Corporations thrive on stability... bring able to reliably provide or enable meaningful content that the membership wants. That could mean mining fleets, mission running fleets, or PvP fleets. It could mean counter-entosis fleets for null-sec or escalation fleets for wormholes. Regardless, every corporation needs players willing to stand up and take responsibility for guiding others around.
The beauty of Eve is that players can create their own content; all you need is a ship and a goal. But to have a strong, stable corporation, you need to provide something which compels players to choose YOUR corporation over all the other options out there. That might be a unique offering, culture, objective, or combination of all of the above. It might be being very accepting of a variety of playstyles, as Rixx Javix's Stay Frosty is, or it might mean having a narrow focus that attracts a certain kind of player. You have to provide some content that satisfies player needs.
And to achieve that, you typically need FCs (though, for some groups, like Signal Cartel, that's not necessarily true). FCs, or Fleet Commanders, take charge of fleets and ensure that everyone's operating towards the same goal. The best fleet commanders care more about the enjoyment of others than their own enjoyment, and thrive on being able to organize and lead.
But that's to be the "best" fleet commanders. In reality, you only need your fleet commanders to reliably produce content for your members. Ideally, you want several with different specialties and interests. For a PvP corp, you want your blops fleet commanders, your small gang commanders, and your large, strat op fleet commanders (even if "large" is 20 people and your objective is to take a single small moon).
There are a host of characteristics that describe good FCs. Receptive of feedback, yet firm in the heat of the moment. Decisive, yet polite and considerate of the fact that each character has a player behind it. Cool under pressure, with the ability to judge a situation unwinnable or turning increasingly negative before it's too late to act. Flexible, both in on-grid tactics and in adjusting his preferred fleet comps and approaches to meet the numbers he draws.
Let me give you a great positive example I experienced last week. In Rapid Withdrawal, we have an FC named Max Evangelion, who embodies all of these characteristics. On my main, I live in the null-sec world, and I've seen plenty of examples of FCs who simply refuse to undock if they don't have the numbers to win a given fight. But Max seems to recognize that fighting, even if you lose, is content, and can be quite enjoyable. And because of deciding to view FCing in that way, he overcomes narrow thinking that leads to tunnel vision, and rapidly adapts to the situation in front of him to find a way to win.
Most importantly, he does this all the time. Regularly. Consistently. Even when he's primaried, he still has the presence of mind to continue leading the fleet from a perch (there is no such thing as a headshot in RDRAW!).
But through his involvement in the corp, he is a force multiplier for the value proposition of RDRAW. He doesn't provide all the content, but he provides enough to draw people to the corp. And in the down times, the members can create their own content with others of a like mind.
A corporation needs to have some provided content to draw members to it. In fact, it needs to have enough provided content that players view it as a better proposition than the other available options. And once they're there, then all those options for individual content open up. I solo a lot with my RDRAW character, but I'm not in a solo corp because being in RDRAW opens up other content for me as well.
And that decision process - to stay/join a given corp or do something else - is made by every member every so often. If members start doing everything themselves, eventually they decide that they don't need the corp anymore, and they become more prone to leaving.
FCs provide the means by which a corporation can remind members of the value they gain from being a part of it. And that's why I seem them as absolutely vital, provided that the content they provide is in line with the mission statement of the corporation. FCs shouldn't run the corp - they may know nothing about running a corporation - and they can't be catered to out of fear, but corporation leadership should be clear that they support their FCs and will help enable their good work.
After all, when they understand and believe in the corporation mission, there's no greater means of player retention than a good group of FCs.