Intelligence and attractiveness go a long way when managers are trying to introduce changes, but the most potent weapon is humour, according to a psychologist.
If executives are running organisations which are simply ticking over - so called "transactional leadership" - then the fun factor is unimportant.
But when the chips are down and managers are trying to show "transformational leadership", jokes go a long way in motivating staff, the annual conference of the British Psychological Society (BPS) heard.
"The transformational leader makes subordinates feel that he or she cares about them. Such a person does not simply say: `You are paid to do the job so get on with it,' - they present a vision of the future. The advantage is that workers gain job satisfaction and perform better," said Howard Taylor, head of psychology at Chilterns University College in Buckinghamshire.
In a study of the attitude of Air Training Corps cadets to their officers, Mr Taylor found that intelligence, attractiveness and humour all rated highly, but humour was virtually synonymous with leadership.
Mr Taylor said that researchers were surprised with their findings given the strict hierarchical structure in any military organisation.
He conceded that while humour could be a means of cementing "group cohesion", it could also underline the leader's dominance. Sometimes there was a "victim" of the joke.
He said that senior firefighters often used humour, although the jokes could be of a "macho" nature.
British managers are becoming more like their US counterparts, the BPS heard.
Organisations have become increasingly "systematised" and there is increasing recognition that managers are professionals, said Barbara Senior of Nene University College, Northampton.Reuse content