The Second Problem

You seem committed to this idea that “talent” is a thing. You’ve either got it, or you don’t.
Well, I think charisma is real. You know? I met Richard Burton once and he’s a little twerp. But he just had this sssssshhhhh. And I spent two weeks in Muscle Shoals once when Rod Stewart was recording with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. And I like Rodney a great deal. He’s really a great guy and he gave me a cool scarf which I have since lost. If you’re in a room with Rod Stewart, he’s in Technicolor and you’re in black and white. He really has that. I’ve known other people who had charisma. Andy [Warhol] actually had charisma, although he didn’t know it. You know? That’s what attracted him to Marilyn and the stars. To bequeath charisma. Waylon Jennings was charismatic. It’s what Donald Trump has. You have to be able to just walk in there and control the room. I guess sometimes it’s physical. Tim Duncan has charisma. [Dave Hickey in conversation with Jarrett Earnest]

“I contemplated the bust of Koons. Eyelids with carved lashes were closed into an expression of enough sweetness to poison a double batch of laboratory mice. “What were you thinking of when the photograph was taken?” I wondered.
“Having anal sex with Ilona,” Koons said. As when making all his Bad Boy pronouncements, he spoke with neither a nudge nor a wink but with a breathy solemnity. “It’s lost its desire for power,” he said of the portrait. “But it still wants to lead. For me, this is the real perversion. It’s about as perverse as things get. To know one’s limitations and still want to lead people. But it’s always your own ego.”
The abstractions hovered around the marble head, “A lot of people are going to think this is the way you really feel,” I observed.
“I do feel this,” Koons said. He joined in my startled laughter.
Later he told me, “I’m very disillusioned with the art world. I really am. Art lacks charisma. I try to create charisma, and I try to manipulate an audience, and I try to control the environment. But I’m very disillusioned.” [Jeff Koons in conversation with Anthony Haden Guest]

“Charismatic performers are those whom you simply can’t look away from. Their charisma is an almost physical presence, a spark that powers even the most unassuming musical passage. To experience a charismatic performance is to feel elevated, simultaneously dazed and focused, galvanized and enlarged. It is to surrender to something raw and elemental, to feel happy but also unsatisfied. Charisma calls forth a melancholy, a vaguely unrequited feeling. I’ve caught myself, after certain performances of an aria or a movement, leaning forward, as if drawn against my will…
It is a pure, mystifying gift. It cannot be taught, though silly how-to blog posts proliferate (“Eight Keys to Instant Charisma”). Someone who has it will exude it, whether performing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or Scarlatti, Mimi or Marguerite. Charisma is not earned with age; an artist is charismatic at 16 or 60. Rigorous training enhances and focuses it, but it cannot create it.” [Zachary Woolfe on Charisma]

Charisma matters more or less, depending on the business. Says Gerard Roche, the effusive chairman of the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles: “There 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.” [Patricia Sellers on Charisma]

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