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kate cooper

Humour is powerful. We need to understand more about it

The laughter dividend Kate Cooper is head of applied research and policy at the Institute of Leadership & Management

shared set of values, and increased levels of Freud found humour of academic interest trust. The ubiquitous importance of a sense over a century ago. But it wasn’t until the of humour in many areas of life suggests 1980s that PB Malone and others focused on that those using it are considered more humour’s relationship to leadership. Much approachable, understanding and more evidence emerged to suggest that humour, sought-after for relationships. when used appropriately, has the power to Research suggests that the positive enhance employee wellbeing. use of humour can act as a buffer against Humour is a multifaceted concept. negative effects of workplace stress – a And, because of its intrinsically subjective coping mechanism helping to promote nature, it is hard to define. Humour can, relaxation, relieve tension and manage of course, provoke both positive and disappointments, thus having an important negative feelings in others – the distinction role in mental health and wellbeing. We are is critical. Positive humour has the power all familiar with difficult or stressful social to unite employees and strengthen the leader-follower relationship, while negative situations that have been alleviated by a humorous interjection. humour can erode status-based relations The key here is the ‘successful’ use and alienate people. Leaders have a range of humour – humour that elicits positive of types of humour available to them. feelings. Positive humour has the power Affiliative humour is non-hostile and funny to reduce social distance between a leader behaviour. Humour used as a positive and follower, increase coping mechanism employee motivation to reduce stress may and identification be considered selfPossessing a sense with the organization, enhancing. Aggressive of humour is often and improve a range humour reduces others’ considered essential – of organizational status and increases outcomes. Negative anxiety. Self-defeating but how one measures forms of humour can humour can be used to the existence of such harm the leaderlower the leader’s status a personality trait follower relationship as and gain acceptance. is problematic well as be detrimental Possessing a sense to performance. A of humour is often leader may try to considered essential – but how one measures the existence of such use humour as a positive tool, but fail to use it appropriately, or differentially a personality trait is problematic. Eysenck affect different members of the team. For proposed three perspectives for measuring example, newer employees may appreciate humour: the quantitative – how often it far more than longer-term employees. something is funny; the productive – the Humour is most successful in leaders who extent to which something is funny; and are authentic and have sensitivity to the the conformist – how widely shared is the different ways in which team members appreciation of the humour. may take it. Thus, it should be seen as Humour undoubtedly has a role one tool alongside a range of others that in enhancing communication and leaders have at their disposal to build strong understanding between leaders and relationships with their teams, elevating colleagues. It can relieve tense situations, morale and performance. communicate a shared understanding and Laughter inspired by an authentic leader facilitate the transfer of information. It is is more likely to be affiliative and selfalso able to relieve frustration and alleviate enhancing. Aggressive humour suggests a boredom – jokes about shared experiences leader with lower standards of integrity. But are an important element of office folklore self-defeating humour may be exactly that and contribute to team cohesion. – undermining confidence and acceptance Humour can make a leader more of the leader who uses it. likeable – laughing with someone implies a Q1 2017 Dialogue

Dialogue Q1 2017  
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