Do You Feel Like I Do?

Topic: Leadership, Job Performance
Publication: The Leadership Quarterly (OCT 2009)
Article: Do you feel what I feel? Mood contagion and leadership outcomes
Authors: S.K. Johnson
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Everyone wakes up on the wrong side of the bed from time-to-time – and leaders are certainly no exception.

As a recent example, a study by Johnson (2009) shows that followers’ moods are directly impacted by the expressed moods of leaders. This phenomenon is known as mood contagion , which in this case refers to the automatic transfer of moods from leaders to followers. Mood contagion occurs unconsciously and thus employees have little control over it.

First, Johnson demonstrated the mood contagion effect, such that when participants (university students) saw a video of a leader expressing a positive mood, they tended to report positive moods.  Similarly, when participants saw a video of a leader expressing a negative mood, they too tended to report negative moods.

More importantly, participants reporting positive moods outperformed those reporting negative moods on a relevant task (a mock hiring task which related to the content of the videos shown to participants).  Johnson demonstrated that mood contagion was partially responsible for the performance outcomes.  Additionally, leaders who exhibited positive moods in the videos were rated as more charismatic, which was also found to affect follower performance on the task.

Because we are all subject to mood changes, leaders must be aware of how their moods can affect their followers’ performance.  Johnson’s study shows that moods can be highly contagious and can either enhance or damage employee performance.

Johnson, S.K. (2009). Do you feel what I feel? Mood contagion and leadership outcomes. The Leadership Quarterly, 20, 814-827.