When I am asked about qualities I value in a leader, people are often surprised to hear me say ...
"A leader needs a good sense of humor."
Why would a sense of humor be a key trait in a good leader?
- People are under radical stress in the workplace.
- People work incredibly long hours.
- People give their lives in support of a job.
- People lose precious family time in support of the workplace.
- People's lives outside the workplace are often complicated ... adding to the stress (Work-Life Balance anyone?)
- Humor can be perceived as disrespect, lewdness, and crass behavior ... leading to harassment charges.
- Humor diminishes the seriousness and gravity of the work.
- Humor demeans a leader and turns him or her into a class clown.
- Humor can be misperceived in a global environment.
I take each in turn ...
- Lewd behavior and humor has no place at work (or anywhere else ... but that's my personal bias in favor of respect for others). Clearly, any humor that harms another individual or causes someone to be uncomfortable is out of place. But that's not the kind of humor I'm talking about ... I'm talking about having a bit of fun in the midst of stress.
- When the situation requires gravity, the leader knows it, the people know it, and they all sense the need for seriousness ... but ... a constant pressure of seriousness belongs elsewhere. People need to laugh now and then ... "comic relief" is valuable in the workplace.
- If a leader is CONSTANTLY cutting up, he or she will lose the respect of the people ... but ... an intelligent quip at the right time not only adds to a leader's persona, it makes him or her ... ready? ... "human". With the exception of warfare I can't imagine a place where the occasional quip is out of place.
- In a global environment, things don't often translate well ... but ... if you explain a joke or concept ... people across the world love to laugh! One of my greatest victories ever was to tell a joke cross culturally with a group of Japanese business people who laughed very heartily at a punchline ... through an interpreter.
Leadership humor is free, but it is also priceless. Effective humor endears people to a moment, because laughter is good for the soul. It eases pain, refreshes and adds energy when needed.
Never underestimate the motivational power of leadership humor ...