Why Leaders Need a Sense of Humor

Why leaders need a sense of humor“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” ~Dwight D. Eisenhower

One of my personal tenets is that if it isn’t fun I don’t want to do it, especially in the workplace. Of course we have to be professional, work hard, and be productive, but it also has to be fun. The workplace needs laughter and great leaders understand this, and the need for a sense of humor.

Humor and humility go hand-in-hand. There is no such thing as perfect and regardless of how well you plan, or even execute, something is likely to go wrong somewhere along the line. Being able to go with the flow and have a sense of humor when things go awry is important for the team and the organization, and also important for your mental and physical well-being. Your ability to stay calm and not go nuclear when things go cockeyed, and share where you might have contributed to the problem, helps steady the ship and keep people feeling safe. When the leader is upset, everyone else becomes upset…it’s that simple.

Two points before we go further:

  1. I’m in no way suggesting that when there is a serious misstep or problem, or the unexpected happens, that you shrug it off and pretend it’s not a big deal. It probably is a big deal. What I’m saying is to be mindful of how you manage your emotions and reactions.
  2. Humor means different things to different people. For clarification, I am not suggesting you turn your company into a comedy club. Okay, sometimes maybe there will be joking around, but this is more about a feeling of lightness and how leaders respond and act.

Alright, let’s talk about the value of humor:

  • It relieves tension during crises. Managers and leaders face tough situations frequently. When there’s tension, people respond to that tension. Consider how animals react to us when they feel our stress or tension. Humor helps relieve the tension and people relax, helping them be more productive and make better business decisions.
  • Humor is appealing. It lightens the atmosphere and puts people at ease. Have you ever walked into an office and it was so super quiet you wondered if anyone was working? There is a time and place for humor and the sense of lightness creates a different feeling with people, and those feelings are positive.
  • Helps when you have to share bad news. Don’t get me wrong, joking about serious topics is a big no-no. What might be perceived as bad news can actually be good news if the presentation is well delivered. Even if this is not the case you need to be able to address their concerns and fears, and tell them how it’s going to be ok.
  • Humor builds trust. The truth is that people want to like the people they work for and with. It’s impossible, in my opinion, to build trust if people don’t like you. Maybe they don’t like you because they can’t trust you, and ultimately the relationship is key to building trust. Getting people to know you, getting them to laugh, and even giggle sometimes, builds trust.
  • Laughter is contagious. It’s hard for most of us not to crack a smile or laugh when someone else is laughing. We might even get a bit of the giggles from hearing them laugh. At the right time and place a little laughter goes a long way toward relieving tension and creating a culture of lightness.
  • Humor always starts with a story, and the story is what gets etched in people’s minds. People remember the story. It’s the story that makes them sit up and notice, and what they remember. Not all stories have humor, but all humor is made up of stories.
  • Humor is great for team building. As I mentioned above, it’s difficult not to laugh when others are laughing around you. When people are enjoying each other it builds a sense of community, it builds a team. It also makes it easier to handle touchy subjects with team members because you have already built the connection.

Great leaders understand unpleasant and unplanned situations happen. You just screwed up an order on your biggest client, the product launch is weeks late and tens of thousands over budget, the marketing material to announce your new product is incorrect, your biggest producer left and took two others with him, you had to fire the COO…stuff happens. How we manage through these fiascos is what separates exceptional leaders from the rest. It’s more than managing your own emotions and reactions; of course that’s necessary, but it’s also about how you share this information with others.

Mary Poppins said, “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”, and in this case the sugar is humor. Even if you aren’t facing a catastrophic situation, the culture of the company (or department) is a direct reflection of you, the leader. I encourage you to take a pulse on your team and organization. Is it light and productive or sullen (and maybe less productive)? What do you notice when you walk through the halls? And is what you feel the atmosphere you want to create?

Is your company facing change or new challenges? How do you, as the leader, help motivate the troops and build a structure to move forward with as little chaos as possible? Discover how in Drive the Change.

©2017 Incedo Group, LLC