Apt and Witty Humor as Leaders

I recently read a witty joke from Alexandre Ledru-Rollin. The joke went like this: “There go my people. I must find out where they’re going so I can lead them.”

Did you let out a little chuckle when you read this? Maybe you shared it with other leaders in your organization because you resonated with Ledru-Rollin’s consensus.

The quote gets a chuckle because it portrays, with a witty twist, the great challenge of leading people – the joke that leading people is like herding cats. Almost impossible.

This first joke is acknowledging the challenges of leadership. The second joke is criticizing those who are being led. The second may be construed as poking fun at our people inadvertently (or maybe intentionally) to demean our people. We use humor to highlight their flaws.

If we are not careful, in the long run, the joke will be on us as leaders.

But we can appropriately use humor. One that brings our people together and makes them laugh appropriately.

How Should a Leader Use Humor

It’s not that you can’t be funny when you’re a leader. You can. Humor is a great way to engage and encourage your teammates to continue doing a great job, connect with them, and show that you’re a regular human being.

In a study conducted by Brad Bitterly and Alison Wood Brooks, they had two people give a presentation. One used humor, the other didn’t.

The results showed the person who used humor was deemed more confident and competent than the other presenter. Moreover, the presenter who used humor was more likely to be seen as a leader for other group tasks.

Leaders should use humor in the following ways:

  • To build others up
  • To deliver sensitive information appropriately and timely
  • To show their personal side

People value humor in their relationships. It’s knowing how to wield it properly that will help leaders thrive in their relationships.

Potential Pitfalls of Humor in Leadership

While leaders can be humorous and use it properly, some issues arise. Unintended harm can be caused. This happens because we joke about the topics we take most seriously. In our desire for deep, meaningful conversations, heavy topics arise. We employ humor as a coping mechanism.

Often what we joke about are the things that are most frustrating to us.

This leads to one of the biggest things we must look out for when being humorous – causing hurt or harm.

Be careful that you’re not masking important topics with humor. Your desire to be seen as likable or fun can overshadow the core message you’re trying to share.

Another area that is impacted by your use of humor is your image. People won’t know whether to take you seriously or to laugh because they’re unsure of what you’re trying to convey through your communication.

These two danger zones for leaders using humor can stop your effectiveness in its tracks.

Be a Part-time Comedian

While you’re not a comedy icon, this doesn’t mean you can’t use humor effectively when leading an organization. You simply must be mindful of your tone, reasoning, and desired outcome when using humor in your interactions.

The best leaders understand that humor is a versatile tool, one you can wield responsibly or dangerously. Humor can be used to tear down or build up others. Use humor responsibly and your organization will grow and laugh with you.

When employed properly, humor can bolster your organization’s growth and create a lively atmosphere where people laugh regularly. Plus, it’s just plain FUN!

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