The current and former leaders of Apple have been in the media spotlight lately. CEO Tim Cook led a two-hour presentation of the new iPhone and other products last month, and the Aaron Sorkin-penned film Steve Jobs opened last week.

Steve Jobs’ quick temper was legendary, but so was his ability to inspire people to perform at their highest levels. He was a dynamic showman who led tightly scripted public unveilings of new products now imitated by many other technology companies.

Cook, in comparison, seems more quiet, thoughtful, and even-keeled than his predecessor. Despite the enormous pressure and scrutiny that came with succeeding Jobs, Apple hasn’t faltered under Cook’s direction. Quite the contrary. Apple shares have jumped from $54 to $110 since Jobs’ 2011 death.

Stark differences between the two men’s leadership styles, or at least my perception of them, has me remembering my first exposure to a charismatic business leader. He was someone who inspired me and taught me lessons about business and leadership that I still follow more than two decades later.

Early Exposure to Greatness

After graduating from the University of Georgia in 1984, I joined Atlanta-based MSA (Management Science America), where John Imlay was CEO and chairman.

Because I was an entry-level software engineer, and just one employee out of hundreds, my exposure to John was limited. Nonetheless, he struck a major chord with me in the 10 years I worked at MSA.

In fact, when I learned of his passing in May—more than 20 years after I left the company—my eyes filled with tears. It was at that moment that I realized the impact John’s leadership has had on my life.

Confidence Is Contagious

Charisma is defined as a “special magnetic charm or appeal.” John was an excellent businessman who was appointed CEO of MSA to bring the company out of bankruptcy. He also served as chairman and CEO of MSA and chairman of Dun & Bradstreet Software, founded the Imlay Foundation to support charitable organizations within Atlanta and Scotland (where he traced his family roots), and wrote Jungle Rules: How to Be a Tiger in Business.

John did all these impressive things, yet my memory of him was how he lit up the room. He made everyone feel energized, inspired, and special—whether he was talking to you one-on-one or amongst a sea of people at a company meeting.

When rumors were rampant about a hostile takeover by Computer Associates, he walked through each hallway on all 12 floors of the MSA building, taking the time to speak to every employee. Although he was obviously concerned about the fate of the company, his authenticity and assurance that everything would be alright calmed employees’ fears. And he was right; the takeover bid failed.

I’ll never forget how he entered a company meeting with a real live tiger by his side, with the song made famous in the movie Rocky III, “Eye of the Tiger,” blaring in the background. The message was clear and powerful: we had to devour the competition.

That experience was so impactful that I tried to do the same thing a few years ago. Unfortunately, Zoo Atlanta wouldn’t loan me one of its tigers. I settled for a full-sized stuffed replica, which I’m not sure had the same effect.

I have tiger pictures hanging in my office to this day, reminding me of the importance of reaching one’s potential—professionally and personally.

Connect and Inspire

All leaders have an impact—either good or bad—on the lives they touch. Looking back, I realize how fortunate I was to come in contact with such an incredible and charismatic leader at an early point of my career. Although John never knew me personally, he made a lasting impression on my life and taught me the importance of connecting with people in an authentic, real, and inspirational way.

Although charisma is an important leadership quality, it’s obviously not the golden ticket to success. You still have to be good at what you do; surround yourself with really smart people and create personal, memorable connections.

That said, whether your charisma is aggressive and dynamic like Steve Jobs, or a bit understated like Tim Cook, you have to be able to connect to your people in a way that makes them sincerely want to go to battle with you.

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