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Working with humour: maximizing performance and productivity through humour. (Winning Strategies for Life).

The role of management in this ever-changing world is more demanding now than at any time in history. Trying-to balance the cares and responsibilities of family management with the pressures and changes in the workplace can be a recipe for stress. What is needed therefore, to reduce stress in the workplace, is to build management structures and processes that promote camaraderie and team spirit, and where people are valued and made to feel engagement in the workplace.

Tom Peters, and other organizational experts, prescribe a horizontal type management structure in the workplace, rather than a vertical one. This horizontal type management invites input from workers, using cross-functional teams instead of the hierarchical authoritarian mode of leadership brought about by vertical management.

This new management structure calls for managers to become more adaptable to change and to develop better problem solving skills. This concept of horizontal management may not be easily accepted by some today because we have for so long stereotyped the boss as an authoritarian leader who makes arbitrary decisions, with employees being mere followers.

Today, in the ever changing workplace environment, we need what Fortune Magazine calls, "the new postheroic leadership." The "heroic" leadership, or authoritarian leader of the past, made most of the company's decisions and policies, while workers were left feeling disengaged and unmotivated. However, with the paradigm shift that this concept brings, workers are now encouraged to be more involved in all areas, from decision making to formulating of company policies. These new responsibilities have made the workers feel more valued as members of a team, rather than powerless subordinates.

What then will enable leaders to be more effective? In the context of the "new post-heroic leadership", the progressive and prosperous South-western Airlines company discovered that an effective leader is someone who possesses, among other things, a healthy sense of humour. This can be noticed in their policy concerning the hiring of flight attendants. They believe that an essential part of a flight attendant's job is to keep the customers happy. In keeping with this, Southwestern hires only those applicants with a strong sense of humour. The humourous person, whether a leader or an employee, they believe, benefits personally from having a playful attitude. This then can be seen from Southwestern's example where their 9000 employees are playful, loyal and hard working.

As mentioned earlier, the "heroic" or authoritarian leaders are known for their intolerance and inflexibility to change, while humourous leaders, being more open-minded, are not intimidated by the fear of change. Furthermore, humour introduced into stress filled boardrooms will help lighten meetings and steer decision-making in a positive direction.

There are two opposing views on thinking: convergent and divergent. Convergent thinking focuses mainly on one narrow issue, while divergent thinking focuses on many possible issues.

Let's look back to our school days when our natural playfulness was often suppressed. Schools then were experts in convergent thinking with students being told that there was no time for playfulness, and that they were there to work hard and avoid making mistakes.

Thankfully educators are now realizing that divergent thinking is a more productive way of learning. It opens our minds to endless possibilities for creativity and flexibility in all decision making and problem solving. We can say then that humour, having a close connection to divergent thinking, also opens our minds to new and endless possibilities.

Educator, Dr. Anvir Ziv experimented with a group of students and found that those who had viewed a humorous movie scored high on a test involving divergent thinking However, a second group who had formulated. their own humourous cartoon strips, being much more engaged with humour, scored even higher.

Divergent thinking can also help the leader reframe a situation, which is restructuring it into new patterns. Refraining is useful for the effective leader as it can provide some control over the thinking of others, while helping them look at situations in a new way. This creates unanimity in a group without disagreement.

Having confidence in one's abilities is a plus for leaders. It is interesting to note that those who possess this attribute are also flexible, humble and graced with humour. Confidence and humour can be seen as going hand in hand with these attributes while rigid and proud behaviour is associated with those who lack a sense of humour. Conversely, authoritarian leaders are rigid and proud, and find it hard to appreciate humour. Former U.S. Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson said, "Humour helps to distinguish the really bright and thoughtful and also the humble...from the self-conscious and self-righteous presumptuous type."

Self-effacing humour, the ability to laugh at oneself, is a valuable gift that the enlightened leader brings to the workplace. This type of humour is essential and is closely tied to humility.

In June 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke to a group of students who were beginning their summer jobs in Washington. He stated, "Sometimes I wish I just had a summer job here." By using this self-effacing humour, Kennedy gained instant rapport with the students. He related to them in this fashion even while being the President of the United States. This special brand of humour helps a leader appear smart and knowledgeable, while at the same time humble and approachable. Leaders who do not take themselves seriously, but take a constructive attitude towards their own mistakes and those of others, create a relaxed, productive atmosphere.

Leaders that exercise a sense of humour also have the 'ability to make people feel like members of a team. They lead as coaches rather than as generals, taking on a mentorship role with employees, thus maximizing cooperation, creativity and productivity.

All members of an organization, regardless of their job description, can be more effective by incorporating humour into their daily interactions in the workplace. The days' of the heroic leader need to be put to rest. In these days of fast paced changes, it is essential that leaders encourage employee engagement by developing horizontal management teams and do it all with a touch of humour.

Audrey Pihulyk is a "humour-cilator" who speaks at conventions and for organizations on "Winning Strategies for Life". You can reach her at 1-866-484-2197 or by email at, website:
COPYRIGHT 2002 Canadian Institute of Management
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:horizontal type management
Author:Pihulyk, Audrey
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Sep 22, 2002
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