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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 23, Issue 3

Group Dynamics Lend a Leader Charisma

Heads of state, chief executives and other leaders are not born with the power to inspire. They manufacture this magic dust in partnership with their followers



Josue Evilla

The President pulled himself up the long ramp to the platform of his railway car.... Friend or foe, those who saw him at this moment could not help being moved at the sight of this severely crippled man making his way up with such great difficultyreally propelling himself along by his arm and shoulder muscles as his strong hands grasped the rails at the side of the ramp.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's whistle-stop train tours in the presidential campaigns of 1932 and 1936, as described here by his speechwriter Samuel Rosenman, have become the stuff of legend. By any measure, they were highly successful. According to Breckinridge Long, Roosevelt's ambassador to Italy, the crowds who flocked to see him “passed any bounds for enthusiasm—really wild enthusiasm—that I have ever seen in any political gathering.” This gusto spilled over to the ballot box, and in 1936 Roosevelt won the election by 11 million votes, taking every state bar Vermont and Maine. A range of academic studies, most notably an influential analysis by Dean Keith Simonton of the University of California, Davis, published in 1988 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, identify Roosevelt as the most charismatic of all U.S. presidents.

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