Karyn Buxman

Catching Up With Karyn

Listening Beyond The Laughter Takes Courage

imagesHumor is a valuable leadership tool because it opens up the avenues of communication between you and your employees, as well as between you and your customers.

When you’ve demonstrated that you’re someone who appreciates humor and that it’s acceptable to laugh with you, you’re also showing others that you can be approached with other types of messages. People will feel freer sharing challenges and even bad news with you.

This doesn’t really sound like a good thing, does it? If leading with laughter results in an increase of people having frank, direct conversations with you about less than wonderful news, some of you are saying, sign me up for Club Super Serious. Who wants to open the floodgates to every complaint and concern?

Good leaders do. Conventional wisdom may say ignorance is bliss, but conventional wisdom has never been blindsided by the fact they have a toxic employee who’s actions are going to inevitably lead to expensive, reputation-ruining litigation; conventional wisdom has never been surprised by the fact that there’s quality control issues that need addressing now or that drop-dead deadlines aren’t going to be met. In the real world, we want to know this type of information while it’s actionable – when we have time to correct the problem and save the day!

Encouraging open communication can result in some days that are uncomfortable. You’re going to hear things you don’t want to hear. But that discomfort will pass, and the benefits from making humor a pivotal aspect of your leadership style will last a long, long time. Listening beyond the laughter takes courage – but it’s definitely worth it!


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Lead with Levity: An Interview with Dr. Bob Dent, DNP, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, CENP, FACHE

Bob Dent ScreenshotDr. Bob Dent is the Dean of Health Services for Midland College, as well as the VP of Patient Care and Chief Nursing Officer for Midland Memorial Hospital, which is located in Midland, Texas. He’s one of those impressive individuals who has more characters in the abbreviations of his professional accomplishments than most of us have in our actual name!

But his accomplishments aren’t just a result of his education, or his certifications. Dr. Dent’s caring, compassion, and charisma exude through his easy-going style and sense of humor. I’ve had the privilege of watching Dr. Dent during a visit to Midland Memorial and seen first-hand his mastery of leading with levity: setting the tone for fun while at the same time setting high expectations of his staff.

The result? They’ve achieved ANCC’s Pathway to Excellence—twice! They are enthusiastic about their path on the ANCC Magnet Journey. Patient satisfaction scores are high and continue to climb, and employee satisfaction scores reflect how much they enjoy their work: a lot!

For an example of Dr. Dent’s leadership style, and how much it impacts the engagement of Midland Hospital employees, check out this video his team created to celebrate Nurse’s Week. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iB7vx8LzQuQ When was the last time you saw a top executive lip-sync Pharrell Williams?

As you might imagine, Dr. Dent has some great insights for those of us who want to lead with levity. You’ll find highlights of our conversation below, or watch the whole thing for yourself on Google Hangouts.

Humor has a positive impact on all the indicators we track.

“When we look at engagement levels, patient satisfaction scores, and NDNQI numbers, we see that the use of humor has a positive impact. Humor breaks the monotony of what we do, and it’s incredibly important during the onboarding process, when we bring a new staff member on. We are always striving for balance: there’s a time to be serious and a time to have fun with each other. The result in an environment where there’s both fun and productivity.”

Look for opportunities to celebrate!

“Keep your eyes open for those moments that could be fun, where humor could be introduced. Our leadership team participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – and we made sure we did it out in the courtyard, where everyone could see us through the windows. This gave them a chance to be part of the fun, as we got soaked and then challenged our colleagues in a neighboring town.

“You want to celebrate the small things, and the big things as well. When our nurses are honored with a DAISY award, we show up with the cinnamon rolls and balloons and have a good time with that. And we’re really proud of the fact that we’ve just been awarded a Pathway to Excellence award for the 2nd time– something we’re definitely going to celebrate!”

Be the example.

“If I want my team to use humor, I can’t be stressed all the time. To stay calm and collected, use humor to break through the day to day stuff that happens. It’s important to be visible. Be punctual and spend time with your staff. You can get caught up in things and just disappear into your office, but we can control that. Schedule time to be visible. Schedule time to have fun.”

Be Yourself – Unless You’re a Jerk!

“The best advice I can give someone who wants to add more humor to their leadership style is to just try it—as long as you know it won’t hurt or kill somebody. If your humor is inappropriate, someone will let you know.”

Lead with Levity Summary

karyn coffeeTwo things really jump out at me after my conversation with Dr. Dent. First: the use of humor has a proven positive impact on every aspect of Midland Memorial’s operations. Laughter improves the lives of patients, nurses, physicians, staff, and administration alike! Second: Adding humor to your organizational culture is an ongoing, deliberate practice—Dr. Dent looks for reasons to celebrate. How could you do this in your workplace? Humor is power. Find mentors and masters like Dr. Dent to help you on your journey to lead with levity!


Karyn Buxman is a neurohumorist and thought leader in applied humor. For free tips on how to make levity work for YOU, sign up here. Additional interviews can be found http://karynbuxman.com/blog/

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Lead With Levity: An Interview with Jacqueline Ko Matthews, CEO of PJMint

unnamedJacqueline Ko Matthews is the founder and CEO of PJMint, a digital wealth management firm that delivers better, safer and cheaper comprehensive, advanced quantitative wealth management strategies online to everyday investors. She was the right-arm Investment Executive to former Virginia Governor/current U.S. Senator Mark Warner in his $200m family investment office and played a critical role in establishing the Goldman Sachs Investment Banking Hong Kong office focusing on China, Taiwan and Southeast Asian markets. She worked under then Co-Chairman Robert Rubin who later became U.S. Treasury Secretary.

We’re thrilled to have her insights on Leading with Levity to share with you.

Here are the highlights from our conversation:

Listen to Your Team

“There are leaders who only want people to listen to them. A better approach is to do more listening. Make decisions based on the input of your team members. Solicit multiple viewpoints and have them present you with the pros and cons before you make a decision. This empowers your team and builds a stronger organization.”

Know The World Is Changing

“People don’t want the world to change. Humans are comfortable with predictability. I don’t want to say they have their head in the sand, but they don’t want to deal with what may be coming. This creates a dinosaur effect—it’s a philosophy that leads to extinction. It’s important to embrace uncertainty and see it as an opportunity rather than a threat.

“You don’t want stagnation in your organization. You want people who are eager to be at the forefront, who want to lead the evolution in your industry. Look for this when you’re building your team. You don’t want the paycheck chasers. That attitude passes on and affects your clients.

“Instead, you want the people who have that professional pedigree but are also excited to embrace a new paradigm approach. They’re going to help your organization evolve and stay current.”

Incredibly Smart, Talented Leaders Laugh

“I’ve worked with some truly great leaders—Goldman Sachs Co-Chairman and then U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Virginia Governor and current U.S. Senator Mark Warner—and they’ve always had a sense of humor. You can’t take yourself too seriously—after all, it’s possible to be incredibly smart and good at what you do, and still make mistakes. Humor brings out the humanity in the situation.

“Being able to laugh at yourself impacts how well you can motivate and inspire the people who are around you. A confident leader knows no one is perfect—even themselves.

“These leaders also taught me to make sure that whatever path I take with my career, make sure that it makes a positive impact on people’s lives. This was the underlying mission behind the creation of PJMint—to democratize comprehensive and advanced quantitative wealth management solutions to everyone. Making a difference using your unique skills will create the most joy and laughter all around.“

Self-Deprecating Humor Can Be A Double-Edged Sword

“The ability to laugh at yourself is important, but you don’t want to take it too far. Women do a good job softening their message with humor, often with self-deprecating humor. You’ve heard this happen. Sometimes it goes too far. It’s best to find a balance, where you’re comfortable in the position you’re in and don’t feel that you need to be apologetic. Remember that you’ve done good work and you’ve earned your position. You deserve to be there.”

 Lead With Levity Summary:

karen_handsJacqueline Ko Matthews is a shining example of how to bring both wit and wisdom to the leadership front. Remember that as leaders we don’t have to be perfect. And at those times when our imperfections are there for all to see, humor makes us human. It’s important to laugh at ourselves, but don’t go overboard—that can backfire. Using humor when leading others will inspire those we lead, and create joy and laughter for us all.

Thanks, Jackie!

Karyn Buxman is a neurohumorist and thought leader in applied humor. For free tips on how to make levity work for YOU, sign up on her homepage at http://www.KarynBuxman.com

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5 Reasons To Lead With Laughter

A sense of humor and the ability to laugh are powerful leadership tools. Below are 5 reasons why YOU should add humor and laughter to your Leadership Toolbox.

1. Leaders who laugh are healthier leaders.

Being in charge is stressful. The rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, and other stress-driven health complaints are much higher among leaders than among people who aren’t in such stressful roles. Laughter is an all-natural, drug-free way to alleviate stress. When you’re less stressed, you make better decisions: laughter can make you a better business strategist!

2. Leaders who laugh are better negotiators.

Humor puts the common bonds of experience and insight individuals have squarely in the spotlight. This strengthens the relationship. This is important when you’re negotiating. Most leaders prefer to have negotiations where both parties feel like they’re walking away a winner. Knowing what you have in common with the other party and what’s important to them is a critical component in making this happen. Laughter opens the door to developing that understanding.

3. Leaders who laugh have emotional resiliency.

To be an effective leader, you need both optimism and vision. Both of these qualities are under constant assault from the world we live in, which serves up a continual narrative of gloom and doom. Laughter creates emotional distance from overwhelming events, allowing leaders to focus on what they need to do to get the job done. This doesn’t mean ignoring very real problems—just holding onto perspective that makes moving forward possible. Being able to see the brighter side is a valuable leadership skill.

4. Laughter creates loyalty.

Attracting and retaining top talent is the most important part of many leaders’ responsibilities. The strategic use of humor plays a vital role in letting people know they’re welcome and valued—two important components in employee retention. Strong leaders understand that humor is a very individual phenomenon, manifested in different ways for different reasons, and they use that knowledge to strengthen relationships with their team members. Strong, long-lasting teams deliver more innovation and better results!

5. Leaders who laugh are better communicators.

Humor is a social lubricant. We use laughter to ease our communications with colleagues, customers, and pretty much everyone else around us. Being able to hear and understand what others are trying to convey while being simultaneously being able to make your own meaning clear is a sign of a great leader. Knowing when to laugh—and what it means when other people are laughing—can make you a more effective leader.


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In Loving Memory: Dr. William Fry, Jr.

Bill fryHow do you say goodbye to someone who has not only touched your life, but touched the world? When I saw the return address on the envelope in my mail this morning, I immediately knew. It’s been over a year since I’ve heard from William (Bill) or (daughter) Susan. But July is not the time they’d be sending a Christmas card. I intuitively knew that Susan was writing to tell me that her dad (my friend and colleague) had passed away.

My mind was immediately flooded with selfish memories—and guilt. I’d visited Bill about a year ago, and I had planned to go again this spring. But I was busy. Too busy to go see someone who meant the world to me.

The world knows William Fry as a renowned psychoneuroimmunologist who was a pioneer in the field of applied and therapeutic humor. His scientific studies on humor and laughter are too numerous to mention here. But his thirst for knowledge, his dedication to science, and his love of humor led him to be one of the most widely recognized experts in the field. One of his most treasured awards was the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor.

But if you are not one of the fortunate to have known Bill—the father, the husband, the grandfather, the colleague, the friend—then please read on. Bill was married for sixty years to the love of his life, Betty, who passed away a few years ago. And he leaves behind three children: Peter, Stephen, and Susan, as well as six grand children. Bill traveled the world and made friends everywhere he went. Most of us knew of his plethora of writings on humor and laughter, but he also wrote on a broad range of topics—from children’s stories and poetry to string theory!

bill fry awardI smile remembering our last visit: he was kind enough to put me up at his home. Despite the fact that he was pushing ninety, he scampered up and down the steps of his three-level house like a 10 year old. And while his body was bent and showing the signs of his years, his eyes twinkled and his wit was a sharp as a scalpel.

We spent hours as he proudly showed me his extensive library; its shelves extended so high that you needed a ladder to reach the top levels; and the books reflected his broad range of interests and expertise. I also learned that Bill’s daughter Susan is a chip off the ol’ DNA block!

On New Year’s Day this year I was hit with the flu (no, not a “Bar Flu”) and Bill had called to wish me “Happy New Year!” I didn’t whine, but I did tell him that I was under the weather. Well, two days later a small box showed up with his return address with a bottle of aspirin and a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, and a card with no name, just a smiley face. Despite the fact that I still felt lousy, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

How do you say goodbye to someone who has touched your life so significantly? We can’t tell them all the things we wish we’d said before they died. Years ago, my friend and colleague, Hope Mihalap, encouraged me to practice living eulogies. “Don’t wait until after someone has died to let them know how much they mean to you. Tell them all the good stuff before they die.”

I feel grateful that I had let Bill know how much he meant to me last time we spoke. But I am even more motivated to tell those who are still with me how much they mean to me. How could any of us be too busy to do that?

To all of you (and you know who you are) who are still reading this far—thanks for being part of my life. And to Bill…I miss you and will continue to share your good works and your laughter with the world.

In loving memory

William Finley Fry, Jr.

March 25, 1924-May 16, 2014


In love and laughter,

Karyn Buxman

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Lead With Levity: An Interview with Insurance Information Institute President Robert Hartwig

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARobert Hartwig is the president of the Insurance Information Institute. He regularly advises Congressional committees, business leaders and the media on economic issues related to the insurance industry.  We’re thrilled to have his insights on Leading with Levity to share with you:

Here are the highlights from our conversation:

Leadership Styles Change Over Time

“I definitely see myself as a different leader now than I was in years past. Today, I give my staff a great deal of latitude. They’re very good at what they do, and I trust them to do it. In years past, I was more of a micromanager.

“My micromanager tendencies emerged early—with my first small business – a paper route when I was 12—and continued through graduate school and into my early professional career. Working as an expert witness in particular reinforced the tendency to prepare thoroughly. There’s no one in that witness stand with you!

“Over time the industry became much more tech driven. Tasks that were really outside my core competencies forced me to build trust. When you hire the right people, this can work very well.”

Have High Standards

“I’ve always tried to run things in such a way that the public sees the Insurance Information Institute as an extremely credible, authoritative source for all things insurance related. My own personal standard is quite high: we always need to be prepared to testify in front of a Congressional body.”

Humor Is A Leadership Tool

“People will listen to you when you make them laugh. A lot of the material I present has the potential to be very dry. I inject a lot of humor. It helps people pay attention and engage with the topic. In a recent session about the future workforce, the focus was on the advances women had made. Women are now well educated, they obtain 60% of college degrees and an increasing percentage of Master’s degrees. When I poked fun asking if this was the “end of men,” all the men squirmed in their seats, the women gave each other fist bumps. It strengthened the relationship I had with that audience.”

Be Aware of Potential Landmines

“During a presentation to the auto insurance industry, I used a clip from a popular MTV show Pimp My Ride to illustrate how technology can make cars less safe—in this instance, a TV screen had been installed in the vehicle’s steering column. I thought it was a funny way to make a point about the risks of distracted driving, but because the star’s rap artist host, Xzibit, and most of the show’s participants were African-Americans, some audience members felt I was making an unfortunate racial depiction. You need to have an awareness of how the material you’re presenting will be perceived.

“You don’t always have to be the originator of the humor for it to be problematic. One year an industry magazine asked me for my outlook for the coming year. On the cover, unbeknownst to me, they photoshopped a Swami’s turban onto my head. Several people contacted me that this image was insensitive and undignified. In that situation, you apologize—and you take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Lead With Levity

karen_handsLeadership styles grow and change as we, as individuals, grow and change. Robert’s not alone in having his field radically transformed by technology. He’s made a great point by illuminating the fact that delegation is easier when you hire good people: crafting a strong team may be one of the most important jobs a leader has to do.

It’s really important that we all learn from Robert’s experiences with humor gone wrong. Presentations, advertising, and other messaging platforms can hurt us more than help us if we’re not careful. Before you take any material live, it’s a good idea to have a few people weigh in with their perspective on your work. Ideally, you’ll want to work with a diverse group of individuals here. Think about who can help you make sure you’re not alienating anyone when you’re trying to be amusing!

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Lead With Laughter: An Interview with Tim Belber of Insurance Thought Leadership

TimBelberTim Belber is the founder of the Alchemia Group, which provides wealth transition planning and business growth strategies to family business owners. He is also a leading thought leader in the insurance and financial planning industries.  We’re thrilled to have his insights on Leading with Laughter to share with you:

Remember We’re All In This Together

It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day aspects of advising clients that you can lose sight of the bigger picture. That’s when you’ll find the satisfaction with the work you’re doing going down. When the focus is on finding the meaning, everything changes.

Presenting a client with an alternative possibility in the relationship they have with an advisor – giving them an experience where the focus is on providing them with life-building, empowering financial tools rather than fear-driven, product-pushing – brings that satisfaction back. It’s a different approach that delivers different results, and I’d like to see the entire industry embrace it.

Humor Reminds Us We’re All Connected

Successful family businesses have role clarity. They’re able to separate their professional lives from their family relationships and history. Humor helps me explain this to the families we advise.

When I explain how it might be hard for the boss who is also a parent to forget that the 50 year old employee they’re talking to is also the same kid who used to bug them for chewing gum, people lighten up. They relax and start talking more. The session becomes more interactive and productive.

Confidence, Growth & the Ability to Laugh at Ourselves

Humor can help humanize you. You don’t want people to be intimidated by your role as a leader or expert. You can make more meaningful connections without that barrier between you.

There’s  a story I tell about my when I first started out in business, I was only 22 years old. I was very concerned that people wouldn’t take me seriously. In an effort to compensate for this, I carried a hard briefcase and I made sure that I always had a tax journal with me.

Then one day I stopped, laughed, and asked myself, “Why am I even doing this?”  Now I just carry a portfolio when I meet with clients – and I leave the tax journals in the office!  People laugh because they’ve had their own similar experience, in one way or another. Communication becomes much easier

Lead With Laughter

karen_handsAs a thought leader, Tim has some great insights both for the entire industry and for individual advisors. His stories reinforce how humor makes it easier to start meaningful conversations. Laughter has the power to overcome social barriers, by reminding us of universal experiences that put us all on the same level.

Another great lesson from Tim is that humor can help people understand complex concepts like ‘role clarity’ very, very quickly. Think about the parts of your presentations and professional communications that your clients have trouble understanding. Is there a way you can use humor to make your meaning clearer?

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share them below, or on the Karyn Buxman speaks Facebook page!

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Lead With Laughter: When Things Don’t Go Exactly As Planned

40a996e93ad479231a1bff2acb433cc1One of the signs that someone is a great leader is that their team isn’t afraid to approach them when they need help or support. Murphy’s Law touches every industry. There’s no workplace that’s free of difficulties. The way a leader responds to these difficulties has a direct and profound impact on the morale and collective resilience of the organization.

Some of the most fascinating neurological research out there has to do with the way our bodies react in anticipation to an event. The events we’re anticipating can be positive – knowing you’re going to meet your funniest friend for a drink after work – or negative – telling your boss that a critical report is way behind schedule.

When we’re looking forward to something good, we actually begin to experience some of the pleasure of the event before it even happens. Our blood pressure goes down, our circulation goes up, we feel more energized and emotionally resilient.

When we are looking forward to something bad, we experience some of the negative impact of the event even before it occurs. This can manifest in many ways, including elevated blood pressure, gastro-intestinal distress, and headaches. The more we dread the event, the worse these physical symptoms become.

As leaders, it’s important that we really understand what it’s like for our team to approach us with problems. Are we creating a situation where the very thought of coming to us makes our team members physically unwell? While we can’t control our staffs’ anxiety levels, we can control how we respond to negative news.  There’s an ART to this:

A: Acknowledge the problem as it is presented to you. Restate what you’ve been told – the report is going to be late – as well as the consequences of this problem – the client is going to be very upset.

R: React to the bad news, not the bearer of it. Any set back will provoke an emotional response, but as a leader, your role is to present that response in a way that makes your team stronger. Extreme anger and upset need to be processed in a private setting. When you are composed enough to address your team, keep your commentary focused on the problem.

Avoid personal attacks, especially of the person who appraised you of the situation. If you make it emotionally dangerous to bring you bad news, no one is going to be willing to bring you bad news. They will delay and delay the unpleasant experience until addressing it becomes unavoidable. Generally, at this point, the problem has grown much larger than it needs to be.

T: Turn toward a solution. Once you know about a problem, the team’s energy needs to be focused on fixing it. Conversations about blame and accountability can and should happen later, not in the heat of the moment.  Demonstrating your commitment to progress helps keep the team focused on moving forward.

Don’t forget that humor will help diffuse the stress in the situation. Saying, “Someday we’ll look back on this and laugh” is the best sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Lead with Laughter – you’ll get amazing results!

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Humor & Home Sales: What’s the Connection?

real estateSelling real estate requires a unique combination of skills. Not only must realtors know everything there is to know about the homes they’re selling and the neighborhood those homes reside in, they must understand the tangled process of financing a home purchase.

On top of that, they need tremendous people skills, in order to attract buyers, understand what their needs are, identify the best properties for them, and provide support and encouragement through the home buying process.

Humor is one of the most essential – yet seldom discussed – tools the real estate agent has at his or her disposal. The realtor who knows how to use laughter to begin relationships sells more homes.

I saw a great example of this on Twitter this morning (Thanks, @sjsincanada!) There are plenty of people who’d shy away from buying property near a cemetery – blame it on too many late night horror shows or cultural traditions that are uncomfortable with the idea of being too close to the departed – but with a humorous twist, this agent turned a potential negative into a positive.

Additionally, the laugh may be enough to make people driving by give the home a second look – and if they like what they see, it’s a lot easier to pick up the phone and make a call. Using humor removes barriers to communication. People who use humor as part of their presentation are less intimidating, and therefore more approachable, than someone who has a stern, all-business-all-the-time affect.

You don’t want potential home buyers to be afraid to contact you. Look for opportunities to use humor as a door-opener; a way to ease people into doing business with you. If you can make someone laugh, you can help them find the right home. It’s as amazing -and amusing! – as that.


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