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Seattle University

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Leading with Laughter

Written by Annie Beckmann
January 12, 2015

The power of humor in the workplace is a topic that continues to animate the research of Colette Hoption (center).

This assistant professor of management in the Albers School of Business and Economics examines how leaders use humor-especially making fun of themselves-to be more likable and trustworthy.

Hoption says her work with humor was inspired by former President George W. Bush who, near the end of his presidency, often was portrayed in the media as messing up.

"Then one day at a press conference President Bush said, 'Thank you all for coming despite knowing all about me,'" Hoption says.

It was a shift in his demeanor and just the spark she and a pair of colleagues at Canadian university business schools needed. "That's what got us thinking about the way leaders use self-deprecating humor to disarm their followers," says Hoption, who has been on the Seattle U faculty since 2009.

They created four different written scenarios where a company leader introduces a new employee named Pat:

"I'm so glad that Pat took this job despite knowing all about me!" (self-deprecating)

"I'm so glad that Pat took this job despite knowing all about you!" (aggressive)

"I'm so glad that Pat took this job despite knowing all about us!" (group-deprecating)

"I'm so glad that Pat took this job!" (non-humorous)

They discovered that bosses who make fun of themselves are the most highly regarded and they argued that this is because of a humanizing effect that builds trustworthiness.