Why Do Leaders Shy Away From Humor?

Mike Cundall, Jr., CEO of Mirth Management, is passionate about the power of humor to build better relationships and create more enjoyable work environments.

Mike shares his story of how his love for comedy has affected his life and career, and why he now encourages leaders to use humor to connect with their people. He discusses how humor often leads to resilience, and brings people closer together. Keep reading to learn why adding some levity to the workplace is essential for boosting team morale and productivity.

Truth You Can Act On

1. Know the ‘Why” Behind Your Humor

It’s important that you know why you’re using humor and what you’re doing. If you’re just trying to make people laugh and get things done, then there’s your first misstep. It’s that boss who just comes in and says, ‘Oh, I just read this article about starting my meetings with two minutes of canned humor. I’m going to press the laugh track and say, ‘Okay, everyone, let’s start with some jokes.’’ And everyone’s looking at the boss like, what do you mean? Because they’re not ready for it, it’s kind of like pouring water on a dry sponge. It’s just going to run off. It’s going to be cringey and people are going to be uncomfortable. So the thing that you should do is start adding levity at a very kind of low level.

2. Be Authentic

I used to do a lot of dancing and would preface it with a verbal lead. I tell you what I’m going to do because I’m going to mess it up if I try to do it seriously. If the leader comes out and says, “I want to try and do this thing as a form of changing how I lead, as a form of self-improvement, it humanizes the leader in a way that nothing else can. And you’re inviting the employees to go on this journey with you, because probably what you’re thinking of at that point is there’s this kind of stratified difference between you and the employees. When you invite them into that space with you, you lower that hierarchy or you remove some of that hierarchy.

3. Be Consistent to Drive Engagement

One insurance company was really good about putting puns (even bad ones) at the end of every email they sent out. And after a while, people started looking forward to the puns at the end of the emails so much so that when it didn’t happen one time, people were like, ‘Well, where’s our pun?’ They began to expect it. So you can set up consistency in these little ways. At the beginning, people might be confused, but if you stick with it, they’re eventually going to come to accept it. And in as short as five emails, the humor is now part of their expectations. And that’s where you start to build that culture of using humor.

4. Use Self-Deprecatory Humor as a Tool, Not a Crutch

One of the things that self-deprecatory humor does is it shows you are willing to recognize your own humanity and your own foibles. That’s really important in helping humanize you to the people that work with you. If you are only ever seen as the person who comes in and lays down the agenda and gets right to it, no one’s really going to know how to deal with you in any sort of personal way. At some point in some meetings somewhere, there will be downtime and if they don’t know you beyond the agenda or the work, there’s going to be that kind of awkward ‘Ugh…I can’t get out of here fast enough.’

5. Always Consider Your Relationship with the Audience

Never forget that sometimes really unexpected humor works. You’re just going to kind of come out of the blue with some little quip, but you’re going to have to somehow telegraph it. So if you’re in a meeting, you have to know how to use your body language. You can’t just go for deadpan. Go for something that lets the people know from your voice changing or from your body language that there was humor in what you just said. Give the audience time to digest it. Because if you just run it through this, it’s what comedians call running over your joke. If you do that as a leader and give them time, you’re going to start to pay attention to your audience more, which is going to make you a more effective communicator.

Book Recommendation:

Listen to the full episode: Episode 199: Why Do Leaders Shy Away From Humor? with Mike Cundall Jr.

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