Charismatic leaders' magnetism may stem from their ability to make followers feel happy, according to a new study by University of Florida psychologist Amir Erez, PhD, and his colleagues in the Journal of Applied Psychology (Vol. 93, No. 3).

Erez assembled 80 small groups of undergraduates and randomly selected one student from each to act as its team leader. The students then worked cooperatively to determine which items from a given list would be most useful to people lost in the wilderness. Before and after the exercise, the students reported on their moods; afterward they also rated their leader's charisma and how satisfied they were with their teams.

By watching videos of the groups, the researchers saw that the leaders who rated most charismatic tended to smile and laugh, and surveys showed that leaders' positive mood spread to group members.

To see if the results translated into the real world, the researchers surveyed teams of firefighters and found dovetailing results: Charismatic fire chiefs tended to express positive emotions, and their teams were happier as well.

The finding may shed light on the source of charismatic leaders' power, Erez says.

"People follow leaders like [President] Kennedy because they make us feel happy and happiness is like a drug," he says.

--S. Dingfelder