Dear Dan: What’s Your Take on Humor in Leadership
I follow, and love, your leadership thoughts. I would be interested in seeing your take on humor and its role or value in leadership.
Thanks for the encouraging word and your interest in humor.
On a personal note, sometimes I crack myself up. Check out the image on Talented People Have an Annoying Side. But humor is a double edged sword.
“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” Erma Bombeck
You can laugh at someone or laugh with them. Additionally, inside jokes make new team members feel like outsiders. Timing and context is everything.
Don’t laugh when:
- Others mourn.
- New ideas are suggested by novices.
- Problems are brought to you by concerned teammates. (Especially, serious teammates.)
- Lunch. Lighten up for goodness sake.
- Failure, at least some times. Sam Walton said, “Celebrate your successes. Find some humor in your failures.”
- Laughter makes you attractive. Frowning is ugly.
- Humor is an invitation to connect. “Laughter establishes–or restores–a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between two people….” Psychology Today.
- Laughter has the opposite effect of stress. Dr. Lee Berk Time.com.
- Laughing limits self-importance.
Sarcasm is dangerous and gets you in trouble. Others have helped me soften my sarcasm, but it’s a beast eager to leap out. Avoid sarcasm in public. Let it out with friends.
Tell a few jokes. Don’t worry that you can’t tell a joke. A bad joke does the same thing as a good one, as long as you know it’s not that funny.
Many leaders could lighten up.
- Smile frequently.
- Enjoy people.
“I’m not funny. What I am is brave.” Lucille Ball
What’s your take on humor in leadership?
How might leaders interject humor into leadership?
As I viewed Dan’s short video about Ace Hardware, I substituted “school” for “store” and found his message to be important for leaders of schools as well as to stores. Nice message!!
Thanks Len! Enjoy.
Nice insights, they say “There is a time and place for everything”, as you stated humor is a “double edged sword” that can cut you down at the wrong time. Pick your poison when choosing to use humor, it can be “bittersweet”. I would say know your audience and be selective with your language on the safe side.
Thanks Tim. Some of this relates to your demeanor and presence. We had some landscapers doing work on our property this Spring. I was showing the owner some things we wanted to do and two crew members hung around.
I shouted “chop chop… let’s get to work!” They jumped and began to hustle away. I meant it to be funny. It wasn’t. Ugh!
Reminds me of something I learned last year from watching an old leadership video by Ben Zander and his book, “The Art of Possibility.” Rule #6: Don’t take yourself so damn seriously. Sage advice to use humor appropriate to the situation and the audience.
Thanks Joel. I saw Ben in NYC. His passion is contagious. He does things “HIS” way. I found it encouraging. Perhaps when we take ourselves to damn serious we lose ourselves. Cheers
Humour can be an interesting element to keep the team unity intact with the spirit of success & joy at certain intervals. Weekly or monthly meetings can end on a happy note after a serious discussion on the set agenda or a leader uses the humour as part of his tactics to bring the cohesive work environment in some of his talks or at the tea/coffee break time.
Humour is certainly be part of the essential traits of a leader to keep the staff motivated and give a feel that he is not a difficult person to be approached for any help/guidance. However, it has to be in limits and at an appropriate time. The leader has to be disciplined to ensure the achievement of set goals with collective efforts.
I was told by a old school leader that you have to keep that line between them and you. He told me you don’t joke or encourage that at work. Work is all about work. I asked “what if they say something funny”. He told you glare, roll you eye and leave the room and laugh in the bath room (and that is the same place you cry if you have to). WOW leadership has came a long way. I still find myself guarded around employees and that has its place. And a good laugh always makes the day better. I agree and will work on my tendencies for sarcasm. Thanks
Thanks for your post, Dan. People should look for the humor in all situations. It’s natural to work harder and be more invested when you enjoy what you do, and to enjoy it, you have to find and recognize the “joy”. Leaders who model enjoying their work help shape the environment. But you are spot on regarding the warning about sarcasm. I’ve seen that have a toxic impact. Avoid at all costs in the workplace!
So enjoyed today’s post. Humo(u)r brings the human touch to leadership, makes leaders appear not so stilted, more approachable. Although not a leader, I could / can be sarcastic (in a nice way), with ‘tongue in cheek’ comments. Those that know / knew me and by reading my facial expressions / body language could tell when I was being a tad mischievous. Sometimes, I can’t, couldn’t help myself (oops) 🙂
Great topic, and lots of great comments from the readers. All of the cautions about humor and sarcasm are true and need to be heeded. That said, I have found humor as a great way to relieve tension in myself, and in groups. A well placed comment at the right moment can let the ‘steam’ out of difficult moment(s) – a project that the group is struggling with, a tense meeting. Humor can help release the tension, and provide a break in which to ‘retrieve’ your perspective and creativity.
In science, one of the things that acts as a barrier between scientists and non-scientists is the almost surreal humour exhibited by the former.