You must be thinking this headline can’t actually be serious. And, that somewhere in this post I’m going to explain the importance of being a positive role model, of getting into the trenches, leading the troops into battle, and allowing them to do their work without micromanaging them. I would say that from my own experience (and not basing it off the scholarly literature on leadership), this is a true statement. Good leaders are inspirational because they have their team’s best interests in mind, andare able to empower their people to be the best versions of themselves. Effective leaders have vision (long-term thinking), empathy (an ability to take on all key stakeholders’ point-of-views), and a strong drive toward mentoring their people. And if you follow those links you’ll actually find the research to back this up. Okay, so where does laughter come into play? Have you really just been baited into reading this article without any substance for a mildly controversial title? Well, if you’ve seen the critically acclaimed NBC comedy series, The Office, the character Michael Scottis essentially the purest exemplar of my point in the title.
I once took a values inventory for a career development offsite, and according to my results, humor is the value that I hold most dear to my heart. In other words, if I had to imagine choosing something that I could not part with in the world (e.g., integrity, stability, achievement, power, etc.), it would ultimately be the joy of laughter. This is a bold statement, and something quite risky to advertise about myself on LinkedIn, but I stand by it 100%. Obviously, so many other values matter to me, but the end all – be all for me is humor. And really, why shouldn’t it be? A world without comedy would be a very bleak existence for myself, it not for most people.
If your team can have a laugh at your expense, it won’t deprecate your authority or position, but it will improve the dynamics of your team, and possibly strengthen it. It might seem counterintuitive to allow subordinates to a jab at you once in awhile, but your reactions to these moments will set the pace for how your team reacts in the future. Being a good sport when you are ingratiated with humor (e.g., being called out for something embarrassing and letting the team have their laughs), and even encouraging it, will surely result in them picking up on your cues for “meaning business” when you need them to execute in the future. Knowing where to draw the line between laugh time and business time is a balancing act and more of an art than a science!
This is a topic that I think might generate some differing opinions, and I’d like to open it up to the leadership experts, managers, executives, scholars, and line employees of the world to hear your opinion in the comments below. As an I-O psychologist and marketing account manager, there isn’t usually a lot of room for comedy in my professional life, however as mentioned above, I value humor among all else (which I hope isn’t too disturbing to any of my colleagues and connections).