Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Humor and Leadership

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Humor and Leadership

Article excerpt


Today's leaders, whether they are in business, education, the military, or in religious institutions, face a multitude of challenges to meet the mission of the organization. Keeping employee morale high, accomplishing the organizational goals, promoting teamwork and creating a workplace that is free from stress are at the forefront of the issues leaders face each day. Having a sense of humor--and knowing how and when to use it--can be a useful management tool to a leader.


The purpose of this study is to understand how military leaders from various organizational backgrounds, use humor to improve morale, accomplish organizational goals and objectives, promote teamwork, and relieve workplace stress.

Research questions to be answered within the main context of the study include:

a. Can humor be used to improve a leadership style?

b. Is the use of humor more effective when it is deliberate or spontaneous?

c. How was the use of humor developed?

d. How does a leader know when to use humor?

e. Can the use of humor be learned or is it a gift that you either have or you do not have?

This research paper will use grounded theory methods, as it will be dealing with how people act and react to the phenomenon of incorporating humor into a leader's leadership style. The collection of data through field interviews and the coding of the data received are useful in grounded theory studies.


Humor Can Help Improve Morale: Fun and joy play an important role in the empowerment of employees. Organizations that do not provide an empowering environment can experience difficulty in motivating its employees (Miller, 1996). Miller also has noticed that organizations that do not empower their employees also experience a lack of humor in the workplace. In organizations where humor is lacking Unland and Kleiner (1995) believe the basic skills of using humor can be taught if supported by management. Smith, Harrington, and Neck (2000) have concluded that not only is having a sense of humor important for managers, but also for each worker within the organization.

Humor Can Help Accomplish Organizational Goals and Promote Teamwork: Humor can help improve productivity and thus help accomplish an organization goal (Unland and Kleiner, 1995). Additionally, a leader's sense of humor will be indispensable when leading a project through its various stages especially in a team-project setting (Miller, 1996). Since most projects get bogged down at some point or encounter major obstacles, having a sense of humor allows the team to face these stopping points head-on and then move on. Miller believes that when humor is used effectively, creative problem solving can occur because the team members have developed a sense of trust that is often a by-product of skillful use of humor. Leaders, however, should be careful not to inject too much humor into the setting. Avolio, Howell and Sosik (1999) found that some employee's view the use of humor to be inconsistent with the seriousness of the issues being examined and, depending upon the circumstances, the inappropriate use of humor may have detracted from, rather than contributing to, the eventual outcomes. In some instances, Avolio et al. also believe the use of humor leads employees to view their leaders as insensitive to their needs. Sarcasm and ridicule do not have anything in common with humor according to Miller.

Humor Can Relieve Workplace Stress: Humor is a low-tech productivity booster that can be used to relax people and reduce their stress (Caudron, 1992). According to a survey developed by Accountemps, 96% of the executive surveyed believed that those with a sense of humor were better employees than those that had little or no sense of humor (Caudron, 1992). Smith et al. (2000), in their study of flight attendants, found that humor was an effective tool to reduce stress and conflict especially when the flight attendants were involved in situations where they shared basic demographic similarity (race and gender) with the person causing the stress and conflict. …

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