Leadership and humor


A young naval student was being put through the paces by an old sea-captain. The naval leader asked the naval student a series of questions:

“What would you do if a sudden storm sprang up on the starboard?”

“Throw out an anchor, sir.”

“What would you do if another storm sprang up aft?”

“Throw out another anchor, sir.”

“And if another terrific storm sprang up forward, what would you do?”

“Throw out another anchor.”

“Hold on,” said the captain, “where are you getting all your anchors from?”

“From the same place you’re getting your storms, sir.”

Now I am not too sure about the naval student’s career future because I tend to think that it would be a bright one should the naval leader possess a sense of humor and it would be dire for him should the leader be humorless.

There is tremendous power in humor. One observation I have is that successful leaders that are brilliant and are greatly respected all exhibited humor. The fact is, you cannot even afford to be humorless.

Stanford professors Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas, in their brand-new book entitled: “Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life” gave the following observations:

“When people crack jokes at work, they are 23 percent more respected. Employees who think their bosses are funny are 15 percent more satisfied and engaged in their jobs.

“Studies have shown that if you add a mildly amusing line to the end of a sales pitch – something like ‘that’s my final offer… and I’ll also throw in my pet frog – you will increase your customer’s willingness to pay by 18 percent. Humor is extremely effective because when people laugh, the shared laughter accelerates closeness and trust.”

As a public speaker and a trainer, I see how humor disarms even the most hardened participant in the audience and arouses their interest in participation.

Toddlers laugh 300 times a day, but it takes a middle-aged adult two-and-a-half months to laugh that many times. Old-school leaders have been briefed and oriented to maintain a “stoic poker face” devoid of emotions to exhibit “professionalism,” and then wonder why their people are not communicative.

Many leaders are massively underinvested when it comes to humor. You cannot find a course in graduate school on developing humor as that would be considered a joke. (pun intended). The theory behind this is that many leaders do not think of themselves as being funny. This would be a wrong focus. Humor is not about being funny, but it is the art of cultivating joy and shifting mindsets. It is an expression of how you see the world and expressing it, and the truth of the matter is that humor works like muscles. The more you use it, the more comfortable and natural it is for you to make others laugh and share the fun.

Humor isn’t just a way for us to be more effective leaders and more joyful people – it’s also a way for us to lead lives of greater meaning. Humor requires us to be fully present, to listen hard, and to search for observations in each moment. It creates endless opportunities to experience joy. And because there are few acts as easy and generous as sharing a laugh with someone, humor is ultimately an act of love.

And here is a very interesting caveat. Humor also makes you live longer. A 15-year study in Norway found that people with a sense of humor live, on average, eight years longer, in part because they have a 30 percent better chance of surviving severe diseases. Laughter creates resilience, and this study indicates that it is good medicine.

The scripture teaches that “A joyful heart is a good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” It turns out science is supporting this notion – just one reminder. Humor should not be dirty toilet humor that demeans or disrespect others because that would be antithetical to the good intentions we want to achieve.

I agree that humor is an act of love. And not only should you exercise this in the workplace, make your home an environment of laughter and fun. For the humorless analytical business people out there who will not change their minds unless they see the numbers and the empirical facts and stats, I guess this is the book you need to read.



(Francis Kong presents the highly acclaimed Level Up Leadership Master Class Online will run from April 14 and 15. Develop leadership skills that translate into personal, career, and business growth in the current reality and the post-COVID world. For inquiries and reservations, connect with April at +63928-559-1798 or and for more information, visit www.levelupleadership.ph)

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