Countless team meetings started with a light joke just to ease the pressure. At the time, I was not at all aware that humour is a strength, let alone a leadership strength.
A few years ago, I tested my strengths and with no surprise my number one was Humour. As a coach, I’m taught to reflect a lot and I started paying attention to how I use humour in my work. If this was a natural and spontaneous thing for me, now I’ve learned how to use it strategically and most importantly when is not the right time to use humour!
Laughter and humour have been shown to reduce stress hormones in the body, which can help improve mood and lower stress levels.
Leaders who have a well-developed sense of humour are admired and considered more credible by 27 per cent compared to the average, and their teams are 15 per cent more committed to them (HBR).
At its core, humour is all about building connections. When a leader can make their team members laugh, they’re not just providing a moment of levity—they’re also building trust and rapport.
Humour can be a great equaliser, breaking down barriers and creating a more relaxed atmosphere where people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas.
This is key in high-pressure situations, where tensions can run high, and communication can fail.
A well-timed joke or humorous observation can help defuse the tension and create a more productive environment.
One key is to be ready to take risks. Humour often involves a certain degree of risk-taking, as leaders need to be willing to put themselves out there and potentially make themselves vulnerable.
Leaders can also work on their timing and delivery, paying attention to their audience and adjusting their humour accordingly.
It’s important to be aware of the context and tone of a situation, as humour that might be appropriate in one situation could fall flat in another.
1. Be conscious of the boundaries. Everyone has a different sense of humour, and you need to spend time exploring and testing until you find the level of tolerance. Pay attention to how people react and adjust your approach and language.
2. Watch and learn from other funny leaders. Many leaders use humour effectively in their interactions with others. Observe them and take note of how they use humour, the timing and delivery of their jokes, and the type of humour they use. This can help you develop your sense of humour and learn how to use it in different situations.
3. Read and watch comedy. Read books, watch comedy shows or movies, and listen to stand-up comedy – this can help you develop a better understanding of what makes people laugh. Pay attention to the timing, delivery, and types of humour used by comedians, and see if you can apply any of these techniques in your interactions.
4. Practice, practice, practice. Like any skill, developing a sense of humour takes practice. Start small by making a joke or witty observation in a meeting or conversation. With practice, you’ll become more comfortable and confident in using humour in a leadership context.
5. Use humour at the right place and time. Humour can be a great tool, but it’s important to use it appropriately. Avoid using humour that’s offensive or hurtful, or that makes people feel uncomfortable. Use humour to build connections and improve morale, not undermine or criticise team members.
6. Be authentic. Humour works best when it comes from an authentic place. Don’t force yourself to be funny if it’s not natural for you. Instead, focus on developing your sense of humour and using it in a way that feels genuine to yourself.
7. Encourage your teammates to use more humour. Make it part of your team culture and teach everyone how to use it responsibly.
Leaders are not expected to become stand-up comedians, those kinds of leaders are not taken seriously. What humour brings to a team is safety, comfort and diversity which is what leadership is about.
If you are ready to start strengthening your humour muscle – ask yourself these questions:
“How much do I use humour in my work? How are others using it? What can I start doing differently? “
Once you have your answers, just give it a try and see the effect. I’m sure you will do well!
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