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Unformatted text preview: brains, toughness, vision, ambition. But those are
commodities compared with charisma.
Why does it matter? Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, who chairs Emory University's Center for
Leadership and Career Studies, says that when a CEO is perceived to have charisma, his business performs better. Direct
reports feel inspired. Excitement cascades through the organization. Even so, says Sonnenfeld, "most leadership courses
focus on followership and compliance and consensus management instead of leadership. T he result is a sort of guerrilla war
Charisma matters more or less, depending on the business. Says Gerard Roche, the effusive chairman of the executive
search firm Heidrick & Struggles: "T here are professions where charisma bubbles and boils and leads to success, and
others where it doesn't make much difference." Such as? "Dentists, CPAs, morticians, engineers, architects, and bankers,
for the most part, don't need charisma," reckons Roche, who has placed CEOs of both varieties. (Larry Bossidy at
AlliedSignal has it; Harvey Golub at American Express doesn't.) By contrast, charisma matters enormously in startups,
turnarounds, or whenever a business is ripping through rapid, unpredictable change. Aren't most companies these days?
Robert House, a Wharton School professor who has studied charisma for 20 years, says that when conditions are
uncertain, charismatic bosses spur subordinates to work above and beyond the call of duty.
Consider that combustible little Internet software company Netscape Communications. CEO Jim Barksdale used to be the
No. 2 executive at Federal Express and then at McCaw Cellular. At both places he was considered a genius at motivating
people. Barksdale, 52, has no MBA. His college degree is from the University of Mississippi. Barksdale's most valuable
asset is his self-effacing, Jimmy Stewart-style affability. Frank and funny, he instantly charmed the two moneybags behind
Netscape: Silicon Valley entrepreneur Jim Clark and John Doerr, high-tech's Uber-venture capitalist. "You gotta take the job,
Jim," Clark yammered the day he first met Barksdale. "You can have my chairman's title and be CEO. We'll move this whole
damn company up here to Seattle if you want."
As Clark tells FORT UNE, "A huge portion of what Netscape is worth is Jim Barksdale telling investors it's going to work. He
has this great ability to convey confidence and give comfort." Adds Clark, who also founded Silicon Graphics: "T o me,
charisma is almost the definition of leadership." And he's willing to pay plenty for it; he and Doerr gave Barksdale an almost
unheard-of 11% stake in Netscape. T he stock has quintupled since its public offering in August, making Barksdale's
holdings worth $500 million.
T he irony is that, like a lot of people with charisma, Barksdale isn't sure he wants it. Blushing and burying his head in his
hands, he says, "Charisma, to me, is almost a phony thing. It's what those T V evangelists have." Finding people with charisma for this story was a vexing mission. FORT...
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This note was uploaded on 04/01/2013 for the course BUSI 405 taught by Professor Blackburn during the Spring '10 term at UNC.
- Spring '10