Karyn Buxman

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Archive for July, 2014

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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