“The Power of Humor”
In the previous newsletter, we discussed how to overcome holiday stress and stress in general. I left out one VERY important component which is also a VERY important component to leadership.
This key component of leadership is often unmeasured and unstated. There isn’t a category for it on performance reviews of leaders (although I believe strongly that there should be). If you don’t possess this key characteristic, your leadership will fall short of its greatness. What is this crucial characteristic? Is it honesty? transparency? vision? integrity? competence? compassion? trust?
While all of those above are extremely important intangible leadership traits, they are all often downplayed to achieve the tangible, extrinsic results. I believe the most overlooked principle characteristic of a great leader is humor.
“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower
If you can’t laugh, you can’t lead.
You see, dictators and task masters aren’t funny. They use fear to lead.
Leadership incorporating fear is fleeting.
Leadership incorporating laughter is long-lasting.
True leaders can laugh and make others laugh as well.
Almost everyone I know thinks they have a great sense of humor, but that’s not always the case. So, a few words of caution first… Hostile humor hurts. Hostile humor isn’t funny. What is hostile humor? Often times it’s something that we all use: sarcasm. You know what I’m talking about, right? Here are examples:
- My, aren’t YOU clever.
- I refuse to engage in an intellectual battle with an unarmed man.
- It IS possible for your mind to be so open that your brain falls out.
- Whatever look you were shooting for, you missed.
- Does your train of thought have a caboose?
- I’m sorry you have to scroll so far down the menus on websites to choose your birth year.
- Are we having fun yet?
Have you ever noticed that when you say “It’s sarcasm.” It sounds a lot like “It’s our chasm.” That’s because sarcasm creates a chasm. It is derisive and divisive. This gap or chasm is filled with negatives, takes away value, and destroys trust. Sarcasm is derived from the Greek words sarkasmos and sarkazein which literally mean to cut or strip away flesh.
It’s the mocking praise or contemptuous taunt that we laugh at because it’s at someone else’s expense. Any time IT is at someone else’s expense, IT takes away value. Leadership is about adding and creating value so sarcasm’s bitter ridicule rarely, if ever, has a place.
This is Your Brain on Humor
Man is the only creature who can laugh. So, how does humor work for us? There’s really a good scientific answer to that. Evidence of the direct benefits of humor lie in studies of the body’s chemical reactions to laughter. Laughter has been shown to reduce pain, boost the immune system, enhance brain chemistry, and reduce stress through the release of serotonin and endorphins. Reducing pain and stress are great reasons for leaders to use humor.
Some of the other things humor can do:
- Help put life’s trials and tribulations into healthy perspective by making them seem smaller.
- Aid us in overcoming fear.
- Allow us to take ourselves less seriously.
- Trigger our creativity.
Don’t leaders need these things from their team members to be effective? Humor not only has healing properties within the body, I believe that it can heal our minds and our relationships. Humor builds camaraderie, loyalty, and can increase cooperation and productivity.
The 7th Sense (since the 6th one was already taken)
Find the humor, absurdity, and exaggeration in the things that you do on a daily basis. Learn to laugh and not a little tee-hee laugh. Learn to let out a big rip-roaring belly-laugh that makes those around you laugh too – even if they don’t know why. You see, laughter is like yawning, it spreads easily and rapidly.
Here are a few pointers on finding more humor:
- Do some things that you did as a kid. Just yesterday I was pushing the grocery cart from the store to the car and rode it like a scooter. When I tried to let go and hold my arms up, I wanted to scream “I’m flying, Jack!” (For you Titanic fans.) Sure, folks in the parking lot were looking at me. I think they were secretly wishing they were riding their cart too.
- Exaggerate stressful situations. So, someone that you are counting on at work isn’t doing the things that they were assigned or asked to do. Exaggerate the situation… imagine that no one on your team was doing what they were supposed to do. You might think this will cause more stress; however, blowing the problem up will allow you to see the absurdity of it, afford you a great laugh, and the opportunity to put the situation into its proper perspective.
- Imagine your situation to be in a comedy show. For example, if you have a lot of work to do in a short period of time, imagine you are Lucy working on the chocolate factory line wrapping the candies. (Click here to see the video on YouTube.)
- Create a funny file. You can do this in so many ways on paper, electronically on your cell phone, some folks even post these things online. In any case, fill your funny file with cartoons, sayings and jokes, as you run across them. When things are looking particularly grim, refer to your file. You’ll get a good laugh and be able to put things back in perspective in no time.
- Bring some fun to work. If you don’t have one already, I believe a Magic 8 Ball® or Slinky® are must-haves for every desk in a work environment. Ok, you may have your own favorites like a whoopee cushion or rubber chicken, but you need some humor around you.
The Power of Humor
You can’t pretend to be funny. It has to be real and true. That is why leaders need to be humorous. Humor is associated with honesty. A leader who is funny is seen as an honest person and one worthy of being followed, especially if that leader can laugh at himself or herself.
“Humor is something that thrives between man’s aspirations and his limitations. There is more logic in humor than in anything else. Because, you see, humor is truth.”
– Victor Borge
You can be the most competent, compassionate, dedicated, assertive, fair and creative leader on the planet, but if you can’t laugh at yourself and help others find the humor in situations, you won’t be as effective at creating the greatest value.
Laughter is like internal jogging. It is an exercise that positively impacts your health and well-being. If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to be healthier and get more exercise, try watching a comedy and “lol” (laughing out loud)!
I wish you a happy, healthy, and humorous holiday season!