How Often Do You Laugh as the Leader at Work?
The first day I sauntered into Miss Amos’s English class, I was scared. Not because of the subject or because this was my first day in a big city school—I was startled by her face. My first thought: Did some terrible disease do this to her?
I slid into my seat and peaked up to look at her squarely. Her nose was huge and curved toward the left cheekbone. Big dark bags hung under piercing dark eyes. Her cheeks sunk in and then exploded into an oddly shaped, oversized mouth. Her silver-blue hair was parted to the side, perfectly straight from to back, and combed flat––down to her ears, then was held in place by a tight row of pin curls around the edges.
Below her neck, everything else seemed normal. Tailored dress. Expensive-looking jewelry and shoes. (Teenage girls notice things like that.)
She turned to the board behind her and wrote in big bold print: MISS AMOS. Turning to face us again, she said dryly, “You’ll notice there’s no period after the Miss. That makes it all too final. I’m still hoping.”
The class laughed uneasily, and that began my junior year with Miss Amos. She demanded much. She expected excellence. She graded hard. She laughed a lot.
By October, her huge bulletin board bulged with mums and green ribbons, each sprouting a football player’s glittering number. Two days before the homecoming game, the bulletin board had mums three rows deep inside the flowered frame. Her explanation? Former students sent them “just because.”
Later that year, a student sauntered into class late, mumbling apologies about oversleeping. Miss Amos harrumphed, with her dry wit: “Chris, if you’re sleeping more than three hours a night, you’re sleeping your life away. At age eighteen do you know how much of your life you’ve already missed?” Chris slid into his seat sheepishly.
But as she surveyed the room with her sardonic smile, the comment was not lost on the rest of us. Nor, apparently, was it lost on Chris, for that matter. He’s now a state senator.
Miss Amos taught us to research, to think, and to argue a case for our point of view. I’m still drawing from that deep well of skills she poured into my life—mostly through the use of humor wrapped around a heart of love.
By May, I hardly noticed her face anymore. I’m guessing most other students forgot about it also. Miss Amos has a high school named after her now in Arlington, Texas.
Humor can hide plenty of personality quirks, unattractive physical features, and petty habits that might otherwise irritate friends, family, and coworkers. With the pressures of leadership, you always have a choice: to get upset or to get a laugh.
Getting upset boosts stress level, your heart rate, and your blood pressure; a good laugh and a lighthearted culture can boost your influence and productivity—not to mention the morale of your entire team.
So if you’d like to improve your communication style as a leader by adding more laughter, consider these suggestions:
- Lighten up. Look for positives in negative situations.
- Allow time for a chuckle when brainstorming during problem-solving in meetings.
- Respond in lighthearted rather than heavy-handed ways to tension in relationships.
- Learn how to tell a great story to illustrate your points—even in formal business presentations or business meetings.
- Learn to laugh at yourself. Understand that your reputation, respect, ego, career, or future is not on the line with every mistake or negative situation that develops.
- Practice a little self-deprecating humor—admit a few mistakes now and then, errors in judgment, or wrong decisions by telling funny anecdotes on yourself. Their admiration and appreciation will likely grow because of your willingness to be vulnerable.
- Let others laugh at your mistakes—without holding ill-will. Don’t be defensive. When someone cracks a joke at your expense, enjoy the humor yourself. Others take their cue from you. Assume no ill will on their part until you have proof that they actually meant to embarrass you. (If you’re sure they intend to embarrass, then that’s cause for you to talk with them privately about the cause.)
- Double-check your own motives regarding humor toward others. Humor should leave no sting. Never disguise a “message” to someone in a humorous barb. Humor should strengthen and heal, not weaken and hurt, relationships.
To paraphrase an old German Proverb: A person shows their character by what they find funny—or not. Laughter connects, engages, and expands your influence as a leader.