When you think about the one quality that sets great leaders apart, it’s their ability to laugh and find joy in their work. Think of all the great leaders you’ve known. I would bet they had a great sense of humor. They took leadership seriously, but not themselves.
I think of Warren Buffett singing with his ukulele to his biographer, Fortunes’ Carol Loomis for her retirement at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women ‘s conference. It should not surprise us that he has a sense of humor. His opening line was “400 women. One guy. Life is good.” he said. He then made a serious point, when it comes to attaining true power; Buffett says the goal is truly gender blind. It’s hard not to be touched by what he says and does. Many of Berkshire Hathaway’s more entrepreneurial leaders are women.
He’s one of many leaders who understand humor in the work setting can make you a better leader. Richard Branson has had continued success by poking fun at himself when competing in global markets. His sense of humor and practical jokes keep his coworkers not knowing what to expect from Sir Richard on April Fool’s Day for years. You can’t get in trouble for making fun of yourself. This might be a good thing to remember when your tweet out messages on social media.
Sam Walton went dancing down Wall Street in grass hula skirt when his managers exceeded his expectations in sales and profits. He inspired his teams to continue to grow and develop his business to be the largest in the world. So what can you learn about using a sense of humor to motivate and inspire your team?
First, be willing to be the one the joke is on. There’s no need to hurt others feelings when you can be such an easy target. Laughing leaders find joy and passion in everything they do. It’s a very natural extension of who they are. They find joy is their work and it allows them to enjoy the work into their later years. It’s the rare person who can’t find anything about themselves to laugh at.
Second, look for opportunities to use humor as a coaching tool with your team members. I find the best way to approach clients and employees with difficult challenges is to share a funny story that makes my point for me. I collect great stories to share at the right time with others. If you can share a story and a smile, it’s much better than a kick in the seat of the pants and a big stick. It’s all about how you motivate others.
One of my COOs used say I had a story for most any occasion when coaching others in difficult situations. She then told me humorous stories wouldn’t work for her. I asked her what she would do if she came to a fork in the road. She asked in a puzzled way what that had to do with our discussion. I reminded her of my favorite philosopher, Yogi Berra who said when you come to a fork in the road, take it. I reminded her there are always more ways to get where we want to go, we just need to look for a different path. And she laughed because it was so corny. We started working together looking for a better solution to our challenge.
Finally, learn to know your people. Humor is a universal language in dealing with others. If you learn what other people are interested in, you can share almost anything you need to with them. When I worked with engineers from other parts of the world, I would try to find stories from their home countries that would resonate with them. I used to ask my people for funny stories from their homeland and their families to share with me. It not only gave me insights into how they see the world, but what they thought was important to them. I find humor an incredible tool for bonding with others. Even in the most challenging situations, humor can go a long way to create rapport with others. When working in hospice you learn to find the little things make the time together enjoyable. Once you get people to share their stories and laughter, their hearts and minds will follow.
See you next week.