The Surprising Power of Humor in Leadership

Wednesday, 05 July 2023

Let's talk about a tool in your leadership toolkit that you might not be using to its full potential.

No, it's not your strategic planning skills or your ability to deliver a killer presentation -- it's your sense of humor.

Yes, you read that right.

I recently read research by Cate Watson and Valerie Drew from the University of Stirling, where they found that humor and laughter can play a significant role in decision-making and the emergence of leadership.

Now, before you start rehearsing your stand-up routine, let's clarify what we mean by humor in the workplace.

It's not about cracking jokes or making light of serious situations. Instead, it's about creating a positive atmosphere, fostering camaraderie, and facilitating open and honest two-way communication.

It's about using humor as a way to connect with your team, break down barriers, and build trust.

Watson and Drew introduce the concept of the "play frame," a form of 'non-serious' talk where participants jointly construct extended humorous sequences as improvisations.

This isn't about making people laugh out loud; it's about creating a space where people feel comfortable, engaged, and part of the team.

And, as it turns out, this kind of environment can be incredibly conducive to effective decision-making and leadership.

In their study, the researchers found that even in formal meetings, humor and laughter could serve to accomplish strategically important ends.

Humor was not just a means of lightening the mood, but a tool for leadership and influence. It's a form of communication that, while not serious in nature, can have serious implications for team dynamics and leadership emergence.

So, how can you, as a leader, harness the power of humor?

The key is authenticity and appropriateness.

Forced or inappropriate humor can backfire, creating discomfort or even resentment. But genuine, well-placed humor can show your human side, connect with your team on a personal level, and foster a positive and open environment.

Moreover, humor can be a powerful tool for diffusing tension and addressing difficult issues. By framing a conversation within a 'play frame,' you can address serious topics in a way that feels less confrontational and more collaborative. This can help to foster open dialogue, promote problem-solving, and ultimately lead to more effective decision-making.

After practicing it myself during my role as a leader for the past 15 years, I truly believe that humor and laughter aren't just for the comedy clubs - they have a place in the corporate world too.

By harnessing the power of humor, you can build trust, foster a positive team culture, enhance your effectiveness as a leader, and create a positive workplace as well.

So, the next time you're leading a meeting, don't be afraid to lighten the mood with a bit of humor. You might find that it's your most powerful tool yet.

After all, leadership doesn't always have to be a serious business!

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