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Managing to Amuse

Focuses on the factor that may contribute to the effectiveness of female managers. Self-deprecating and nonoffensive humor role for an effective female boss.

Q: Who's funnier than a female manager?

A: An effective female manager. According to a recent survey of 359 business school graduates, woman executives who wield a sense of humor around the office are viewed by underlings as more capable than less jocular female managers.

If you thought the answer to the above riddle was "everybody," you're not alone. Women in positions of authority--particularly those in male dominated fields--have often been reluctant to reveal their humorous sides, fearing that occasional quips might undermine their efforts to be taken seriously. Indeed, according to Wayne Decker, Ph.D., who conducted the survey, businesspeople report that even today male bosses tell more jokes and are considered more amusing than female supervisors.

But Decker, a professor of management at Maryland's Salisbury State University, also found that women bosses who used nonoffensive humor were judged more effective at getting things done than their less comical counterparts. Moreover, mirthful managers were more likely to seem concerned about their staff's well-being. While ratings for male supervisors also rose when they made humor part of their managerial repertoire, men benefited from active funny bones less than women.

While self deprecating and nonoffensive humor scored the most points with Decker's respondents, he suggests that managers note what works best in their offices. But whether a supervisor's style is satirical or silly, spontaneous humor and offhand remarks work better than memorized jokes. Warns Decker: "Bosses shouldn't try to be stand-up comedians."

Edited by Peter Doskoch