Use Levity For Leadership Success

Developing Humor, Promoting Change, No Excuses Discussed

Posted: July 31, 2014

Many great leaders have praised humor as a powerful leadership tool. Dwight Eisenhower said that “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” 

The July issue of T&D (Training and Development) contains some interesting thoughts about the role of levity in leadership success. 

While the word humor might suggest “joke telling,” that’s not what the authors have in mind. Their definition is broader, and includes “an attitude of lightheartedness, of taking life, and oneself, less seriously.” 

In addition to making people laugh, a major facet of humor is enjoying and appreciating other people’s humor.

The value of humor seems clear. A 2012 Harvard Business Review study found that humor is one of the key attributes that leaders use to influence followers.

According to a recent study of senior leaders in a global, 150,000-employee company, humor is effective in providing difficult feedback, strengthening interpersonal relationships, reducing stress and increasing attention span during presentations. Given these benefits, an important question is whether a sense of humor can be developed, and, fortunately, the answer is “yes.” 

The goal is not to become a comedian, but rather to be able to communicate a sense of humor. The authors suggest this can be achieved by using quotes, analogies, and definitions. 

Quotes can be used effectively, provided that they make a point. Analogies — which compare one thing with another — can be found by looking through quote books, and modifying them to fit the situation at hand. Definitions involve providing funny meanings for words or phrases, and they’re a great way to break up a long, dry discussion.

Humor is an inestimably valuable interpersonal skill that costs nothing, so start developing it today. You will likely be amazed at the “connectivity” that it provides you.

Don’t Let Excuses Deter You 

Many of history’s great people have experienced multiple failures along the way: Winston Churchill lost numerous elections, and Henry Ford went bankrupt five times.  But these people pressed on.

Sadly, many people quickly give up and resort to excuse-making rather than continuing to pursue their goals. An article in the May-June issue of Training offers readers some “tricks for getting off the excuse train” and persevering in their pursuits.

First, avoid blaming others. Assume responsibility for your part in your goal not being achieved, and after “owning up,” re-establish your momentum and move forward.

Stop working on things that just don’t matter.  Henry Drucker adamantly advised against “doing with great efficiency, that which should not be done at all.”

Don’t allow yourself to be consumed in self-doubt. Instead, keep reminding yourself that your goal is to succeed, and don’t let anything stop you short of that goal.

Learn from your mistakes and missteps, and determine what you can do better next time. Once you’ve answered that question, ensure that you do better next time.

“Twelve Steps” And Change

An article appearing in the July-August issue of Harvard Business Review discusses some intriguing similarities between successful organizational change efforts and the model used in established addiction treatment programs. 

The success of both types of programs depends on employees changing their behavior, and changing behavior is hard.  However, if approached correctly, success can be achieved.

Nothing happens until there is a readiness for change. However, there’s no way to make people change, so the focus should be on helping them reach a point where they want to change. That’s truly the linchpin for everything that follows.

It’s important to help people replace old habits with new ones, and the focus should be on replacing negative practices with positive ones. The goal of replacement efforts is to avoid any sort of activity “vacuum” that might result from simply eliminating old habits without any replacement.

Finally, the overarching goal is progress rather than perfection. There are going to be “stumbles” along the way, and when they are experienced, people must “rebound” and move forward to the next victory, which should be appropriately celebrated.

Although the road is not an easy one, the benefits make the journey worthwhile.  And success at the end is rewarding for both the individual and the organization.

Philip B. DuBose is a management professor in at the James Madison University College of Business.

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