Sometimes work can get so serious everyone forgets to lighten up and laugh a bit. But humor should not be considered just a distraction or frivolity. It's actually an important and necessary prescription for successful business and a happy life.
Yesterday I had the great pleasure of interviewing comedian George Wallace, who is ranked by Comedy Central as one of the greatest comics of all time (a
nd as a side point of interest was also Jerry Seinfeld's best man. Who knew?) I just read George's hilarious new book Laff It Off, and persuaded him to take time away from his busy schedule headlining the Flamingo in Vegas to brainstorm on how using humor can help anyone become a better leader. Here are 8 simple ideas you can use today.
1. Energize people. When the team seems dull and listless, humor is a wonderful way to wake them up and get them going. George often has to wake up a weary, late-night gambling audience and get them going when he takes the Vegas stage. His first job is to connect and get them smiling with jokes so people are feeling good and alert. As he points out: "You cannot smile without your body feeling better."
2. Create lasting memories. If you are trying to get your team to remember something, find a funny way to explain it. Laughter triggers endorphins, which lock in memories in the brain. That's why George still tells funny stories from over 50 years ago when he was a kid. He told me a couple of doozies from his childhood I would love to share...if they were only appropriate.
3. Break the tension. If conflict is high and tempers are flaring, humor can be like hitting the reset button on the mood. It will distract from the issues and make people relax so they can take a breath. Then you can restart the discussion from a happier tone. George reminds us that all in all, "Life is funny" even when it's serious.
4. Put things in perspective. So often people take themselves too seriously. And then we panic over a minor mistake. George advises: "If you go Stupid, go all-the-way Stupid. Once it's too late and you're already doing something stupid, really swing for the fences. Hell, you're already in stupid territory, make it one for the record books. Make the situation so damned bad that you'll never forget it the next time. That's right: you'll actually wind up smarter in the long run."
5. Liven things up. So often work is so serious. A great leader is not just bossy. No one really wants to toil in a hostile and stern environment. George points out that you're not here to be mean. That attitude only creates problems. In fact, mean old men start all wars. Don't be a war starter. Get the team to just relax and have some fun. Then you can enjoy the increase in productivity.
6. Disarm an uncomfortable situation. Maybe you have bad news to deliver, like criticism or a bad review. Don't just go in for the kill. You are talking to a human with feelings. Use humor to start the talk off on a lighter note and break the ice. Now the person will be less defensive. Think about how to make them laugh so that despite the tough talk they can say: I will make this a good day. And don't leave them feeling downtrodden. As George says: "If you see someone without a smile, give them yours."
7. Build a bonded community. Shared jokes are like common language. As your team shares humorous events they bond over the experiences. This creates comfort and happiness within the team, and George rightly states that happy people make things happen. Others who encounter your continually smiling and laughing team will want to join. You'll attract the best of the best. Follow George's simple advice: "Go meet good people and start with a laugh."
8. Make people feel great. George points out that laughter is still the best medicine for whatever ails you. And it's free! In his book he writes that laughter has proven to do the following:
- Lower your blood pressure (Laugh all day, eat deep-fried bacon-wrapped Twinkies for dinner.)
- Work your stomach muscles (Can you say six pack?)
- Boost your immune system (Note: Does not combat lactose intolerance.)
- Release natural painkillers in the body (Put down that supersized oxycodone bottle for good!)
- Reduce your stress level (Imagine, punching the wall a thing of the past!)
As I approach the last birthday of my 40s next week, I'll consider George's sage advice: "We don't stop laughing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop laughing."
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