What exactly is Charisma? It's real. It matters. And it can be dangerous. (Fortune Classic 1996) - Fortune Features
What exactly is Charisma? It's real. It matters. And it can be
dangerous. (Fortune Classic 1996)
June 10, 2012: 8:53 AM ET
Editor's note: Every Sunday, Fortune publishes a story from
our magazine archives
. This week we turn to a 1996 story
about the other Big C: charisma. From
Jack Welch's gusto
Michael Jordan's 1,000-watt smile
, this story by
(now Fortune's editor at large) asks what is charisma -- and can leaders control it? Why charisma? Why now? Fair
questions. After all, the American economy is flipping out, Europe is in worse shape, and business seems to be holding its
breath anxiously for the results of what is likely to be one of the hardest-fought presidential elections in U.S. history.
Simply put, charisma matters because it can save companies. It can create products and profits, it can motivate and
stimulate. And, yes, it can change people's lives. The proof, of course, is Apple, which this coming week will almost
certainly unveil a spate of dazzling new products at its
World Wide Developers Conference
. No doubt thousands of hard-
working people have made
Apple's monster success
possible. But it was the vigor, the largeness of spirit, the aura of
one man, Steve Jobs, that pulled the company through its darkest moments.
FORTUNE -- So, hotshot, you've got a sheepskin from a high-class business
school. You've nailed the vision thing. You learned all those leadership bromides.
You're tough but sensitive. And you've empowered everyone from your personal
assistant to the company mascot.
You think you're on the fast track, right? Wait a minute. See that fellow moving into
the corner office down the hall? He attended some middling college. Doesn't have
an MBA. But he has an aura. He persuades people--subordinates, peers,
customers, even the S.O.B. you both work for--to do things they'd rather not. People
charge over the hill for him. Run through fire. Walk barefoot on broken glass. He
doesn't demand attention, he commands it.
What's he got that you don't? In a word, charisma.
You don't hear much about charisma in business school. And you've probably never read about it in a business magazine.
To most people, it's the inscrutable X factor--a mystical, almost magical career booster. Not many people have charisma. But
when you talk to those who do, you discover that it isn't such a mystery after all. Yes, it's charm and personal magnetism,
but--more important--it's the remarkable ability to get others to endorse your vision and promote it passionately. Charisma
makes you a leader.
The guy on this issue's cover sure has it--and knows precisely how to use it to advance his career. You probably think
Michael Jordan's magic derives from his transcendent talent on the basketball court or his $45-million-a-year celebrity.