Those Dreaded Leadership Lists (again)
If you’re reading this, that means you’re interested in leadership and are thinking that if you find read that next article, you’ll find some new nugget of information that will help you. You may, but do yourself a favor and don’t try too hard to follow all those lists. It’s a fool’s errand. Plus, if what I have to say about it below, these lists are incomplete in some basic ways. There are a number of missing pieces to leadership which we’ll get to in a moment. But do me a favor and do an internet search for “best leadership traits” and have a look. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. You have top 5, top 7, top 10, 12, 15, 25, and I even saw one that was 100 or more. They have a variety of similarities and some have some differences. But they’re all missing one huge item. Humor. Most leadership lists that appear in any search completely ignore humor and it has a lot to do with why you even bothered to look up leadership traits in the first place.
When people have questions about what makes leaders effective, they start reading articles about effective leadership. Those articles are jam-packed with terms like “good communicator,” “smart,” “visionary” and other inspirational terms. Leaders are almost mythical beings who are haloed by the powerful words meant to engage people.
The problem with this focus on the rarefied airs of leadership like the above is that it reinforces a basic problem that makes our organizational spaces so in need of leaders—it ignores the basic connections that people need to have with one another in order to build strong leadership. Leaders don’t just come in and lead, they work to build connections, to engage with those around them so that they are able to put into practice the visions they and those with whom they work have. One incredibly effective way to create and foster those connections is humor.
Humor is a basic way we feel connected to each other. The people you laugh with, the people you share jokes with, send memes to, etc. are all people with whom you’re close. Of course a leader won’t be in on all the inside jokes that people have, that’s not the point. But a leader that cannot share a laugh with those they lead, who feels just enough removed from the people in the organization that they don’t feel comfortable sharing a joke, those leaders are less effective. They are less likely to help those around them feel engaged, or feel as if the leader cares about them.
So if you’re looking for a way to build the sort of necessary connections to those around you, start by listening to them and finding ways to share a laugh, to find something funny together. When you do these sorts of things you are showing more of yourself than just being the boss. You’re actually starting to be a leader. We look up to our leader in large part because we connect with them. One of the easiest ways to foster that connection is through humor. Of course don’t make the mistake of doing what Seth Dozerman did. Leaders can demonstrate authenticity with their humor, or they can go the Dozerman route and have the humor create tension and division. If you’re interested in leadership, that’s a great start. Maybe start with a joke about how your first days as a leader have gone and see where that gets you. If that’s not a good place to start, then a little self-deprecatory humor is generally good. Whatever you do, start from a place that has you, your core values, your ideas and desires, and your leadership will be all the more effective.
I have another few blog posts on this and related topics. Click here if you want to go back to that chain.