On Humor

While checking my previous entries before titling this post, I was shocked to discover that I have not yet written on humor. This shocked me because one of the first things that many people notice about me is (and I quote), “You have a sense of humor!” To which I always respond, “Yes; I’ve been accused of that before.” Someday, I’ll think of something funnier to say. But onward and upward, here, to what humor has to do with leadership.

I’ve mentioned before, in my posts On Morale and On Complementary Strengths, that laughter and having fun can build better teams, but I’ve never explicitly talked about humor and leadership. I believe that having a sense of humor has really helped me to be a much better leader.

Why? Because I have to be able to to the following:

  1. Laugh at myself. I am not always right (contrary to my wishes), and sometimes I can be glaringly, blindingly, amusingly, and hilariously wrong. By laughing at myself in front of and with my geeks, I made it easier for them to call me whenever I was wrong about something. I also made it easier for me to call myself whenever I was wrong.
  2. Laugh in difficult situations. You know those situations where you either have to laugh or cry? Creating an environment where people laugh in those situations alleviates most of the tension that makes people miserable. Did you geek just field the stupidest user question ever? Better to laugh, right?
  3. Have fun at work. My favorite geek team memories usually involve laughing until tears roll down my face. We had one team member on my last staff who would say many things before speaking, causing us to completely lose it regularly. Guess who was our favorite team member?

But having a sense of humor at work–especially as the boss–means that you have to be careful as well:

  1. Watch for off-color humor. Not to say that you must always speak acceptably for the Queen of England, but (especially as the boss) you must never cross the line from a legal perspective. Yes; that means leave your risqué humor at home. Especially in a mixed-gender team.
  2. Don’t hurt people’s feelings. That team member who opened her mouth before engaging her brain? We couldn’t always laugh at her foibles, because sometimes she was a bit more sensitive about being wrong. You won’t always be perfect, so learn to apologize.
  3. Don’t laugh at the expense of getting things done. It’s always more fun to stand around and make each other laugh than re-wire all the switches. But you should learn to laugh while getting the job done (most of the time, anyhow). After all, unless you’re a comedian, you’re not being paid to make people laugh.

Overall, humor is incredibly important while you’re leading geeks. But, as with all things, responsibility and balance are key components to making humor work in a business environment.