By Jas Singh
The business world is often a serious place.
Big decisions. Lots of responsibility. Highly intense. Competitors consistently trying to steal our business. Naturally, with the stakes so high, pressure can be high. Stress levels can be raised. It’s not necessarily the most fun to be in.
Yet in nearly ten years as a hiring specialist and working with hundreds of successful leaders, I’ve noticed a common trait amongst top performing leaders across the world. Something that is often counter-intuitive and against most people’s attitude to work.
Great leaders often have a great sense of humor.
Think of Steve Job’s often witty annual Apple conferences. Or Warren Buffet in his numerous interviews. Even President Obama in some of his most effective speeches.
When others are focussed on “serious” issues – profits, forecasts or election results, great leaders see the funny side.
Here are a few reasons why humor is such a powerful tool in leadership.
1) It creates trust
Beyond genetics and biology, the list of things that all humans have is not that long. We all experience sadness, most social groups have an appreciation of traditions in the forms of music and art. And one things every human enjoys doing is laugh.
Countless scientific studies have shown that we tend to trust those who are more like us. People that have something in common. It’s why we often notice people from our own country or ethnic group when we go abroad – and why we often feel more comfortable around them.
Humor is a common trait of all mankind. Although what we individually may think is funny will vary from person to person, making someone laugh creates trust – even if it subconscious and the person is not even actively aware of it.
Win over your audience by making them giggle.
2) Humour is memorable
Studies have shown that humor is more memorable. It’s why advertisers spend so much money each year trying to make us laugh – and then cleverly positioning the target product whilst we are cracking up on the sofa.
Humor engages our entire bodies, releases feel good hormones and engages our attention for longer. All essential for increasing stronger memories.
Rather than consistently repeating the same thing over and over again or using power-point after power-point, great leaders use humor to increase the power of their messages.
3) It’s a great precursor to serious issues
A couple years ago, a large company I was working with (a large marketing agency) had run into a major problem with one of their clients. Working on a major release that had been in the works for over 3 years, the agency had gone way over budget and deadline. Their client was understandably upset and the CEO’s from both companies had to meet urgently to try and resolve a solution.
The build up to the meeting was understandably tense. Tons of information was exchanged. Talks were expected to be heated – even possibly with the prospect of termination and even worse legal action.
As soon as the meeting started, the CEO of the agency spoke up. “I’m really sorry. We screwed up. Only thing is we’ve spent your money – but all of you are welcome to come for a ride in my porsche outside”.
Although risky, he understood his client, had a strong relationship with them and it paid off. It immediately relaxed the entire room and started conversations off on a positive foot.
Starting with humor can often diffuse an otherwise awkward situation. Topics that may often cause resentment or even anger can often be discussed in a more relaxed way.
4) It spreads easily
We all love to tell a good joke or share a funny story. It makes us feel good – and more importantly allows us to make others feel good.
Great leaders understand that using humor effectively is a highly efficient way of communicating. People will tell each other. Social media will start trending. It gives the papers and TV stations something to use as part of entertainment.
Another common trait for leaders especially in business is to end a presentation or conversation with humour. It’s the reason for typical Friday evening company wind-down. The reason being people are often engaged in serious and heavy pressurised communication all week. Ending on a lighter, fun note is a refreshing change – and also means they leave work inspired and encouraged.
Humor spreads easily.
Funny sells. And great leaders know it.
Hiring managers themselves shouldn’t be afraid of using humour appropriately whilst speaking to candidates. Although interviews are often traditionally considered “serious”, you never know using humour may even be a refreshing change.
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