A key part of being an authentic leader is displaying relational transparency  (Walumbwa, et al., 2008)  which refers to the degree  that the leader    reinforces    a level of    openness with others that provides them with an opportunity to be forthcoming with   ideas, challenges and opinions.   Thus they appropriately self disclose.   Typically followers do or mirror what the leader does and this has spin offs across the organization.

Mirror neurons may represent the neurophysiological correlate of empathy and humans can imitate or extrapolate the intentions and emotions of others possibly via this system. (Tabibnia, 2011)

By understanding the neurobiology of this imitation process can provide key leverages points for culture tuning because leaders’ emotions and actions prompt followers to mirror those feelings and deeds (Goleman & Boyatzis, 2008).  The effects of activating neural circuitry in followers’ brains can be very powerful.

On the positive side mirror neurons result in followers detecting the leader’s  smiles and laughter, prompting smiles and laughter in return.

On the negative side a boss who is self-controlled and humorless will engage those mirror neurons in his team members, leading to a  organizational culture that is self-controlled and serious and on the extreme end even a bullying atmosphere and culture is created that permeates the organization. (Bond, 2004)

According to Hughes (2005) authentic leaders who appropriately self-disclosed with followers were establishing relational transparency and this enhanced motivation. So to be aware of your mood as leader and that it is basically a broad casting station for the entire organization is vital.

Leaders who can self regulate in favour of a good mood,  will help people take in information effectively and respond creatively (Goldin et al, 2008). Thus there is a strong business case for laughter and more smiling in the workplace.


Bond, M. H. (2004). Culture and aggression: From context to coercion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8(1), 62-78.

Goleman, D., & Boyatzis, R., (2008). Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership. Harvard Business Review. September 2008.

Goldin, P.R., McRae, K., Ramel, W.,Gross, J.J., (2008). The Neural Bases of Emotion Regulation: Reappraisal and Suppression of Negative Emotion  BIOL Psychiatry. 63:577-586

Hughes, L. W. (2005). Developing transparent relationships through humor in the authentic leader-follower relationship. In J. W. Gardner, B. J. Avolio & F. Walumbwa (Eds.), Authentic leadership theory and practice:     Origins, effects and development; monographs in leadership and management (Vol. 3, pp. 43-81). San  Diego, CA: Elsevier.

Tabibnia, G. (2011, Nov 3). Class lecture given for Post-Graduate Certificate in the Neuroscience of Leadership – on Mirror Neurons and Empathy – March 2011 Intake.

Walumbwa, F. O., Avolio, B. J., Gardner, W. L., Wernsing, T. S., & Peterson, S. J. (2008). Authentic Leadership: Development and Validation of a Theory-Based Measure. Journal of Management, 34(1), 89-126.