What does leading with humour mean to you?
For me, leading with humour is about taking yourself less seriously and allow yourself to be human and approachable. A good humour – rather than a sense of humour – is an absolute ‘must-have’ for a leader who wants to bring as many people as possible with her. A sense of humour is an added bonus, but I find that, once one relaxes into the role and takes oneself less seriously, a sense of humour naturally emerges.
Can you share a story on how humour has impacted your life/business?
When I interviewed for my very first job straight out of law school, I came across a very confident, intelligent man whose style of work was very casual, relaxed and full of humour. He came across inspirational, clever, serious and respectful, yet with an air of approachableness, fun and joy.
This was very unusual in the legal profession – most other lawyers I interviewed with were very serious and ‘dignified’. I instantly knew that I wanted to work with this person – and that is indeed the person who was my very first sponsor and supervisor in life.
Can you share how to use humour in leadership?
What you should do:
Do take yourself less seriously. People are easily intimidated by titles and positions. It’s up to you to ensure they feel they can trust you not to use your position against them.
Do make fun of yourself once in a while, e.g. ‘Well that was a bit clumsy’ or ‘Let me rephrase this in a more coherent fashion’ or ‘Tongue-tied; can’t speak today’.
Do make lite of a situation when there is tension in the air to bring down levels of anxiety all around, e.g. ‘Now lets all breath out and consider our options’ or ‘Well, let’s admit to having made a mistake, learn from it and move on.’
Do make funny observations out loud so that your team and colleagues can see how you think- e.g. ‘Where was I?’ or ‘Sorry, my mind took me to what’s for dinner this evening and I lost track of what you’re saying – please forgive me, can you repeat?’ or [referring to a report whose author is NOT in the room] ‘OMG this is the most convoluted, tedious reading I’ve had to do in a long time!’
Do comment on the world around you to disarm the serious tone of a situation – e.g. ‘Oh look at the time! Time flies when you’re having fun’, ‘So glad we haven’t scrapped our biscuits policy for meetings – my favourite part!’, ‘The font on these memos gets smaller and smaller – or are my eyes getting worse and worse?’
What you should not do:
Don’t use humour at the expense of others – even snide seemingly-innocuous remarks adversely impact on people
Don’t overstep the boundary with humour – a few comments to balance out tense situations and convey a lite-touch approach are fine, but too much humour can erode one’s credibility. Look out for signs from your audience – when are they laughing with you rather than at you?
Don’t include ‘x’ at the end of your emails/comms when you’re talking about business.