Another sideways glance and furrowed brow from a presentation attendee around 25 years my senior after another presentation about how humor makes better leaders: “I get where you’re coming from, but I don’t see why I should change what I’ve always done.” I’m used to this response by now, but at first, it was hard not to snap back, “WERE YOU LISTENING AT ALL!?” Then came the realization that I was tucking a fake mustache and a papal mitre into a suitcase while this sharply dressed, more-successful-than-me executive questioned my credibility. I get it. When you picture a successful business executive, what do you see? How do they carry themselves? Dignified? With importance? Are they stern? Some Mad Men-esque Don Draper figure pops into many minds, but with a little bit of humor and a loosening of the tie, leaders can take an already successful enterprise away from renting a Bentley from Enterprise to blasting off into the cosmos on the Starship Enterprise. A little bit of humor coming from the top can unlock maximum potential in your people, and here are three reasons why:
1. Makes you more approachable
A warm smile and a hearty laugh go a long way to make you appear approachable to the people who call you “boss.” When we’re able to laugh, especially at our own mistakes, it makes you more human, thus more relatable, by communicating to those who may be too shy to come to you with ideas. I hear the platitude, “My office is always open,” from many managers, but just because it’s open, doesn’t mean people feel comfortable coming in. By having the vulnerability to be able to laugh and be open to others laughing at you it makes others actually want to see you succeed as a leader, as long as you’re open to their ideas.
2. Sparks creativity and trust
When people genuinely laugh, it’s when they’re at their most authentic, and seeing someone in a leadership position so open to being real creates a natural sense of trust. When we trust our leaders are authentic, it gives us an intrinsic motivation to want to help them overcome challenges and difficulties or come up with new ideas. If you’ve ever had a boss you’ve loved, you know that feeling of wanting to overdeliver for them. By laughing and being real about your own mistakes, it communicates that your employees don’t have to be perfect. Think about it, would you rather be around someone minding their Ps and Qs and calculating what they’re saying or someone who is real?
3. Reduces sick days
What? How do you reduce sick days by laughing? I don’t want to dive too deep into the biology of what happens when we laugh, but at the very least, it increases blood flow, reduces muscle tension, and massages internal organs. That’s not something a chair at Brookstone or a masseuse at your local strip mall can do. All of these unintended results of laughter being a core part of work allow your employees’ blood pressure to go down so they’re feeling better, taking less time off, and working with a renewed energy.
If what you’ve been doing as a leader all of these years is working, by all means, stick with it! I’m not saying you should overhaul the way you run manage, but you should definitely find more reasons to laugh, especially if it’s at your own mistakes. We’re all human; communicate that it’s okay to be more human to your team and you’ll unlock even more of their potential than you even dreamed.