In a recent career prospectus interview, Hollywood's hottest (and arguably most beloved) new comic Tiffany Haddish revealed a critical piece of advice that legendary comedian Richard Pryor offered her early in her career.

He told her that "people come to comedy shows to have fun. When you're onstage, you need to be having fun. If you're having fun, they're having fun."

Haddish's blistering career trajectory -- which includes a best-selling memoir and a spot on the cover of Time, as well as deals with Netflix and HBO -- has been fueled by an irrepressible sense of fun on full display over the course of dozens of high-profile media interviews and live appearances.

And while you might be tempted to write off "having fun" as a performance strategy more applicable to entertainers than business leaders, a number of leadership heavyweights -- from noted psychologists to high-performing business leaders -- echo Haddish's belief that having fun boosts the performance of both leaders and the companies they helm.

Humor builds resilience

In a conversation on my podcast, Athleta CMO Andréa Mallard shared that in recent years she has developed a profound appreciation for the "power of being funny." Mallard writes a weekly email to Athleta staff updating them on how the company performed that week and closes each missive with a humorous GIF.

Not only does the GIF increase readership of the newsletter, it also reinforces a culture of levity that extends beyond corporate communications.

"Nothing makes me happier than seeing a group of my colleagues laughing together," says Mallard. By making room for fun, you build what she describes as an "emotional shorthand" and connectedness that create resilience for the inevitable tough times.

The takeaway: Reinforce a culture of fun and lightheartedness by finding ways to inject humor into your formal and informal communication with employees.

Fun helps follow-through

You've likely been hearing for years about the benefits of delaying gratification. But a study on goal achievement from researchers at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business found that fun and enjoyment are the most important predictors of whether a person will stick to a goal. In fact, the study concluded that having fun is an even more critical factor in sticking with a goal than how important that goal is to an individual.

The lesson for leaders: When setting targets or KPIs for yourself, team members, or overall company performance, inject fun and enjoyment into the process of reaching that goal, rather than saving it up as a reward.

Happy people are better workers

Research suggests that happiness at work matters deeply. A happy employee performs better, is more engaged, and works more efficiently. And although it is everyone's individual responsibility to take charge of their own happiness, as a leader, there's a lot you can do to create a culture of levity.

Take time on a weekly basis to ask team members to report on their wins -- recording and celebrating progress is key tenet of building a growth mindset. Develop your own gratitude practice, by finding three things each day for which you are grateful. Smile and laugh as often as you can.

Injecting a sense of fun and humor into your leadership doesn't mean you're not taking the business seriously, or ignoring problems or threats your business might be facing.

When you consider the massive benefits fun and levity offer to culture, performance, and well-being, having fun is a major act of service to your employees and your company. And as Tiffany Haddish shows, it can make the success you do create, well, more fun.

Published on: Jun 15, 2018