3 Reasons Why Leaders Should Use Humor To Unlock The Potential Of Others

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.

7 Reasons Why Work Is The Time And Place To Laugh

I had just finished presenting at a leadership conference when my phone vibrated in my pocket; it was an email from a gentleman named Bruce who had booked me to speak at another leadership conference five months later. It turns out, he had just seen me speak, so the only reason he could be emailing me is because couldn’t wait to have me present to his group. What the email actually said was, “We’re going to rescind our request to have you present to our group,” then he called me “wildly unprofessional.” My jaw dropped to the floor.

The audience laughed throughout, I was approached by another attendee to speak for her group, and I received an email thanking me for my “funny and insightful presentation.” What the hell was wrong with Bruce?

But the more I reread his email and thought about what he had said, the more I could see his point of view: my presentation was designed to shake people out of their comfort zones by making fun of the status quo of work, but I didn’t take into account that many people comfortable with the status quo.

(Also, dick jokes aren’t typically part of your standard HR presentation. My bad, Bruce.)

The status quo of work I was making fun of: 1 in 3 Americans are engaged by their jobs and this disengagement costs American companies $450-$550 billion per year.

How can we engage the people who work with and for us and disrupt this status quo?

Remember you’re a human being and so are they. The world needs to be able to laugh at itself, which is why I sometimes approach my presentations with uncomfortable humor. When we can acknowledge that discomfort, we come to the realization that perhaps it’s time to make changes, and what better way than to introduce laughter into the fabric of work.

Do you like to laugh? Of course you do! And if you know you’re going somewhere you’re going to laugh, don’t you look forward to it? My hypothesis: if people actually look forward to laughing at work, it’ll engage them and inspire them to work better.

Here are 7 reasons why you should make work the time and place to laugh:

1. Improves employee performance

According to a 2007 University of Missouri study, employees with a sense of humor show higher productivity, more effective communication, and a psychological connection to their work.

2. Improves leadership skills

According to the same University of Missouri study, leaders with a sense of humor were found to be more effective at motivating others and reducing workplace stress.

3. Employees want humor in the workplace

A Bell Leadership Institute survey found that employees would rather work for leaders who exhibit a sense of humor, as well as a strong work ethic. Imagine that!

4. Increases shareholder returns

A study by Huet and Associates found that organizations with higher levels of employee engagement where humor played a role outperformed similar companies on the stock market with increased shareholder returns of 19%.

5. Reduces the number of sick days

We’ve all heard that “laughter is the best medicine.” This doesn’t mean to stop taking your meds and laugh constantly, but incorporating laughter into your workplace’s leadership strategy improves overall health. The endorphins, oxytocin, and dopamine that is released into the bloodstream when we laugh counteracts the cortisol that stress releases, thus reducing sick days and increasing productivity. Studies have found that consistent laughter lowers blood pressure, increases oxygen flow, fights upper respiratory infections, and improves pain tolerance.

6. Creates new perspectives of problems

Whether it’s a difficult coworker who spends most of their day complaining or the market crashes, being able to laugh about it gives us a healthier perspective. Laughing about something minimizes the psychological impact by giving ourselves power over that thing. When we laugh about something that’s “too soon,” it’s our brain’s way of saying “I haven’t seen it that way before. If we know to laugh, it presents a bigger picture that makes the unfortunate situation seem smaller.

7. Helps solve creative challenges

In such a fast-paced world, outside-of-the-box thinking is vital in workplaces, and laughter activates our creativity much better than simply telling others to “think creatively, idiot.” A University of Maryland study found that groups who were shown funny videos then solved creative challenges at a rate of 58% vs. the 30% exhibited by control groups.

If you work for an organization that can use a little humor, find small ways to have fun around the office. How? There are a myriad of ways to find the funny and make work the time and place to laugh. Stay tuned to future blog posts and follow Water Cooler Comedy on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for strategies, ideas, and thought provoking questions that can take your workplace’s culture and results to the next level.

Above are just 7 reasons to make work the time and place to laugh, but the benefits are endless, which is why it’s time to change what it means to be “professional.” Who wants to join me in revolutionizing work to make it “wildly unprofessional?”