Managerial Mystique

Monday, August 29th, 2011

With Steve Jobs stepping down, I thought I’d share the abstract to the recent study on Managerial Mystique: Magical Thinking in Judgments of Managers’ Vision, Charisma, and Magnetism:

Successful businesspeople are often attributed somewhat mystical talents, such as the ability to mesmerize an audience or envision the future. We suggest that this mystique — the way some managers are perceived by observers — arises from the intuitive logic that psychologists and anthropologists call magical thinking.

Consistent with this account, Study 1 found that perceptions of a manager’s mystique are associated with judgments of his or her charismatic vision and ability to forecast future business trends. The authors hypothesized that mystique arises especially when success is observed in the absence of mechanical causes, such as long hours or hard-won skills.

In Study 2, managers who succeeded mysteriously rather than mechanically evoked participants’ attributions of foresight and their expectations of success at visionary tasks yet not at administrative tasks. The authors further hypothesized that as mystique is assumed to spread through contagion, observers desire physical contact with managers who are attributed mystique and with these managers’ possessions.

Study 3 found that managers described as visionary as opposed to diligent are judged to be charismatic and ultimately magnetic. The authors discuss the implications of these judgment patterns for the literatures on perception biases and impression management in organizations.

Sprezzatura comes to mind.


  1. Isegoria says:

    I don’t think much of Steve Jobs’ mystique derives from movie-star good looks. (Is there some other “halo” I’m missing?)

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