I was talking with a colleague about the place of humor in leadership. We were talking about how humor, and its subjectivity, can sometimes push those who lead to avoid using it in their work. This is certainly the same in schools and districts; at times our fear of the bad that humor could bring overshadows the tremendous value that laughter can bring to leadership.
The thing about humor is that there is always a time and place. And, what we need to learn is how to recognize those times and places and use humor effectively; otherwise it can do more harm than good.
I’ve learned a number of strategies around using humor; mostly from successes and failures with it over my career. Here are three to always keep in mind.
Keep it about the process. Humor and laughter are procedural. There is rhythm to using humor and telling jokes, and the process of laughing does much for our minds, bodies, and souls. By keeping humor about the process and never about people, we can avoid it ever being taken personally, and can make sure that we prod, rather than poke, through its use.
Don’t overuse it. Not everything is a joke, and therefore not everything can be funny. Humor used well is humor that isn’t used always. A well-placed joke is much more valuable (and useful) then several hundred jokes that fall flat.
Be willing to laugh at yourself. Sometimes the best use of humor involves poking a bit of fun at ourselves. Self-deprecation, when used well, showcases our ability to not always be serious, and to laugh a bit at our own expense. Of course, we need to do this appropriately, as even self-deprecation doesn’t diminish the seriousness of certain situations.
When used well, humor can be a key to success. When used poorly, it can be a major stumbling block. Our goal is to make sure that laughs mesh well with learning and leading, and that we don’t shy away from using them.