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“It's not you, it's me”: transformational leadership and self‐deprecating humor

Colette Hoption (Albers School of Business and Economics, Seattle University, Seattle, Washington, USA)
Julian Barling (School of Business, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, USA)
Nick Turner (Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 1 February 2013




The purpose of this paper is to investigate leaders’ use of humor as an expression of how they value themselves relative to others. The paper suggests that humor can minimize or exacerbate the status differences between leaders and followers. The paper hypothesizes that leaders’ use of self‐ or in‐group‐deprecating humor would be positively associated with ratings of transformational leadership as they minimize those distinctions, whereas leaders’ use of aggressive humor would be negatively associated with ratings of transformational leadership because it exacerbates status distinctions.


A total of 155 undergraduates (58 males, 97 females; M age=20 years, SD=1.31) were assigned randomly to one of four conditions, each depicting a different type of humor in a leader's speech.


Leaders using self‐deprecating humor were rated higher on individualized consideration (a factor of transformational leadership) than those that used aggressive humor.

Research limitations/implications

The authors encourage future field research on the role of humor as an expression of leaders’ self‐ versus other‐orientation.


Humor and work might seem inconsistent, but this study demonstrates how leadership can use humor to improve leader‐follower relationships. Furthermore, it contributes to our understanding of self‐deprecating humor which has received scant attention relative to other forms of humor.



Hoption, C., Barling, J. and Turner, N. (2013), "“It's not you, it's me”: transformational leadership and self‐deprecating humor", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 34 No. 1, pp. 4-19.



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Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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