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College presidents don’t like to admit it, but as cheerleaders in chief, they need charm to chat up everyone from teenagers to rich donors.

Without charm, they’d be sunk.

At one extreme, there’s Lawrence Summers, the fiercely intelligent Harvard president who made his exit after a gaff about women in science. At the other extreme is Gene Nichol, a former William & Mary president of great charm who was too impulsive and never grasped the complexities of university life.

Ronald Riggio, a professor of leadership and organizational psychology at Claremont McKenna College, offers a model: While charm without depth or empathy is a recipe for poor leadership, those who add charm to intelligence, strategic thinking, good hiring and crisis management become “superstars.”

— Adapted from “The Fine Art of Charm,” Paul Fain and Kathryn Masterson, The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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