Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Leadership by humor

After crying, the first emotion that my newborn son predictably expressed was laughter. It's a pure emotion and and possibly the deepest one.

Want to inspire people and be a better leader?
Be funny.

I think that we laugh because we know we don't have to be afraid.  It takes the stress out of situations, it resolves confrontations, and it helps build and strengthen teams which improves communication (and project performance).  Oh... and it shortens long days and makes work a fun place to be.

Here is my advice for using humor in leadership:

  • Be self-effacing, but never in a way that would give others doubt in your competence.  Humility does not imply incompetence.
  • Never make a joke at the expense of somebody else.  Do the opposite.
  • Situational humor almost always works.  It's ok to laugh at having to work on weekends.
  • When making a joke about a bad situation, never use humor to complain.  As a matter of fact, never complain.  Ever.  Handle everything with grace and strength.
  • Be clever, but not in a way that makes other people feel dumb.
  • It's ok to be a little controversial.  Do so with integrity and never say anything so controversial that you might have to back down from it later (i.e. it shows up in an article or on the news).
  • If just saying something to be funny or brighten somebody's day, avoid using the reply-all button.  It doesn't work if it's not personal.
  • If circumstances have somebody else in the leadership position and you as a follower, don't use humor to outshine them.
  • Avoid sarcasm
  • If the joke falls flat, ignore it and drive on.  You messed up the timing or misread their mood, it's nobody's fault.  Keep the conversation and dialog moving.  
  • If you don't think you're funny, no problem.  Experiment and learn from the results of your experiments.  We all do it.  The most experienced and excellent leaders I know can be hilarious to be around and listen to.  This is the result of a lifetime of iterative improvement.  Start now.