Humour and Leadership

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Why it is possible to be serious at work without being serious – the use of humour in the workplace and how it impacts on the effectiveness of leadership

Leaders in today’s cut throat world of corporate industry face an enormous challenge. In the midst of achieving the organisation’s goals and pursuing profits, how do leaders build teamwork, motivate their subordinates, convey their sometimes demanding managerial concerns and reduce stress in a way that produces positivity and productivity? Is it possible to be serious at work without actually being serious at work? To answer this question, this essay will look at research surrounding leadership characteristics and investigate how humour can practically have an impact on leadership effectiveness. How do we define humour? Humour is a verbal or nonverbal activity eliciting a positive cognitive or affective response from listeners and must be connected to context in order to be truly funny. The definition includes puns, jokes, stories, anecdotes, physical actions etc (Meyer, 1990). According to Sarros and Barker (2003), humour is the ability to invoke laughter or see the funny side of a painful predicament. In their study of Australian managers, Sarros and Barker (2003) established that the character attribute of humour was rated the second highest behind integrity. Humour may seem an unlikely component for a leader, however Barker and Coy (2003) also recognised the importance of humour. They identified seven virtues by which Australian executives could be identified and humour was included. Eckert and Vehar (2000) state: “It’s possible to do serious work without being serious. In fact, it’s actually counterproductive to do it any other way. Research on environments that foster innovation shows that playfulness and humour are critically supportive elements. We can be serious about what we’re doing without taking ourselves seriously, and we must.” With humour in the workplace being established as a component for...
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