Leader Humor

– when it works and when it doesn’t

Research on humor tends to assume that the use of humor by a leader towards subordinates has positive effects and is widely regarded as an indicator of the leader having likable characteristics. In the background of most research in this area has been conducted in predominantly Anglo societies, there is doubt whether the overall positive effect of leader humor is universal. Since leaders are today more than ever working with people around the world who draw on different ideals, tastes, social norm and value systems, there is a need to understand the effectiveness of leader humor better.

“Different to the United States, in East Asia leader humor is less effective in early-phase interactions”

With regard to the world’s largest economic region, a study by Yang, Horak and Chi (2020) suggests that leader humor is not so effective in East Asia in the early phase of a leader-follower relationship. This might be so because of different preferences in relation to communication style and divergent expectations and value sets during early-phase leader–follower interactions. In that regard, the role of context is central. In East Asia the dominance of the formal context in the early stage of the relationship will make a leader’s humor less effective. On the other hand, however, the growing significance and role of the informal context in a mature relationship makes the leader’s humor more effective. Hence, Yang, Horak and Chi suggest that leader humor may become equally if not more effective in the mature phase of leader–member interactions.

While cultural differences, including the usage of humor at work, are much more apparent at the early stage of a relationship, the study uncovers so far largely neglected areas that are relevant for the effective development of leaders for global assignments.

More here:
Yang, I.; Horak, S. & Chi, S.-C. & (2020). Leader humor effectiveness – The divergent dynamics of leader humor over time in East Asia and North America. Thunderbird International Business Review, forthcoming. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/tie.22180