Karyn Buxman

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Humor: What’s Holding You Back?


As I chatted with Brett in his office, several of his staff walked by the door and giggled. One of the young women leaned into the doorway and said, “Don’t be late for your appointment!” and winked.

He waved at her and laughed, saying, “Don’t worry. I’m not backing out!”

He looked at me and laughed. “It’s not what you’re probably thinking! A couple months ago I told my staff that if they could go an entire month without an injury or a safety violation, I’d shave my head! At first I was just joking around. I said it more out of exasperation than seriousness. But the staff pounced on the idea. Before you know it, for the first time in ages, they hit the target. As soon as that happened, they came to me and set up a date to ceremoniously shave my head! Between you and me, my first thought was ‘Oh crap! I’m going to look like a dork!’

“But then I realized I’d achieved two things: Most importantly, we met an important safety target. That’s huge. But the thing that I hadn’t expected was that this silly challenge brought my staff together in a way that I never could’ve anticipated. I may look like a goofball, but you know what? I’ll definitely do it again—once my hair grows back!”

As leaders, we’re not looking for opportunities to look foolish in front of those we lead. But as Einstein once said, to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results is insanity. We’re often called to step out of our comfort zone to achieve our desired outcomes.

When Brett took a risk and allowed himself to appear silly, he achieved his goal—and more! As a leader, it’s important to be able to stretch out of your comfort zone to achieve different and better results. Humor is a safe way to do just that. And the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

So stretch beyond your comfort zone today and try something a little silly. Maybe a little air guitar in the cafeteria? A rendition of Monty Python’s Silly Walk across the parking lot? Former President George Bush Sr. wears goofy socks. Sam Walton was willing to dance down Wall Street in a hula skirt. He and his company laughed all the way to the bank.

Leadership involves calculated risks. Humor, when practiced without purpose, can involve a degree of risk. But when used strategically, humor will help you achieve incredible results.

©2016, Karyn Buxman. All rights reserved. Reprints welcome so long as all links the byline are made live.

Karyn Buxman, neurohumorist, is the author of the book Lead with Levity: Strategic Humor for Leaders and creator of an 18 (or 30) day online program to help leaders authentically, consistently and strategically use humor to enhance communication, build resilience and boost engagement. Click here to listen to 3 sample lessons.

She can also be reached via:

Karyn@KarynBuxman.com
Twitter: @KarynBuxman
Facebook: FB.com/KarynBuxmanSpeaks
LinkedIn: Linkedin.com/in/KarynBuxman
Candy-grams: 1465 C St. #3318 SD, CA 92101
Smoke signals: avoid when prohibited by fire season!

Posted in: Humor, Leadership

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Funny Means Money: Humor and Your Marketing Message


A bunch of guys are playing football in a park. The ball is hiked. The quarterback steps back to throw. The receiver—an old woman!—shuffles down the field. Ninety-year-old comedic actress Betty White nearly catches the ball, but suddenly she’s brutally tackled. One of her teammates teases, “Hey man, you’re playing like Betty White out there!” She’s given a Snickers Bar, which transforms her back into his proper male form. The tag line: “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”

It became one of the most talked-about commercials in Super Bowl history.

Ask folks if they watch the Super Bowl and you’ll often hear, “I just watch the game for the commercials.” People remember and talk about these ads! Especially the funny ones.

This is why leaders at companies like Frito-Lay, PepsiCo, Allstate Insurance, Reebok, McDonald’s and Budweiser pay $4.5 million for 30-second spots, most of which are humorous. Why do they do this? Because they understand that FUNNY MEANS MONEY.

According to Mark Levitt, professor of marketing at NYU, “People will pay more attention to a humorous commercial than a factual one, because humor undercuts logic, appeals to the emotions, and opens people to be influenced.” When we find something funny, our level of alertness goes up and we retain information better. This, in turn, improves brand recognition and sales.

Just ask the folks at Taco Bell. When a tiny Chihuahua uttered the words, “Yo Quiero Taco Bell,” the company saw a substantial rise in sales. Not only that, their mascot’s phrase became part of the nation’s lexicon. The Aflac duck raised brand awareness from 12% to 90%. And Geico’s Gecko Campaign played a major role in their emergence as one of the leading auto insurers in the United States.

Be strategic. Check out funny commercials on YouTube and think about what makes them work. Then look at your organization or department and start writing down how you could weave some humor into your messages. Don’t be afraid of being silly—after all, if talking geckos, ducks, and Chihuahuas can be successful, you can afford to be playful.

Karyn Buxman, neurohumorist, is the author of the book Lead with Levity: Strategic Humor for Leaders and creator of an 18 (or 30) day online program to help leaders authentically, consistently and strategically use humor to enhance communication, build resilience and boost engagement. Click here to listen to 3 sample lessons.

She can also be reached via:

Karyn@KarynBuxman.com

Twitter: @KarynBuxman

Facebook: FB.com/KarynBuxmanSpeaks

LinkedIn: Linkedin.com/in/KarynBuxman

Candy-grams: 1465 C St. #3318 SD, CA 92101

Smoke signals: avoid when prohibited by fire season!

Posted in: Business, Humor, Leadership

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Defusing Difficult Conversations

professional speaker
It was 1984, and the second presidential debate between Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan was underway. After the first debate, critics observed that Reagan looked tired, and they wondered if he might be too old for the job. Understanding how this precarious issue could affect the outcome of the debate—and the election—Reagan’s team went to work and prepared his response.

Sure enough, shortly after the debate commenced, a reporter asked Reagan, “Given the fact that you are already the oldest president in U.S. history, would you really be able to function should a crisis arise?”

Reagan assured the reporter that he’d be perfectly capable of dealing with any situation at hand—and then he quipped—”I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

When the laughter died down, so did the question of Reagan’s age. And he was elected president for a second term.

When you’re engaged in a difficult conversation, people often pose what author Malcolm Kushner calls a “Hostile Question.” The purpose of their question isn’t really to gain information, but to challenge you, embarrass you, make you express frustration, and put you in a negative light. You might hear questions like, “Who do you think you are?!” or “Whose budget is this coming out of?!”

You have numerous ways to approach the situation. You can be serious. You can debate. You can take the situation elsewhere. You can walk away. You can BS your way out. Or you can defuse the situation with humor. All of these approaches can succeed, but determining the right choice at the right time requires some discernment on your part.

Used strategically, humor can alter the hierarchy, placing you in a more powerful position. It is a sign of confidence, and a way of taking charge. The goal is not to get the other person laughing so hard that you can escape unnoticed, but to defuse tension, establish more control, and then guide the conversation in the direction that you want.

For leaders, humor can make people more receptive to your messages, build good relationships with employees, and build a more positive and productive corporate culture. For salespeople, humor can break the ice, ease tension, enhance communications, differentiate you from your competitors, and make you more memorable.

Set yourself apart by being strategic with your humor. Think back to a time when you were faced with hostile questions, particularly ones you might face again. Write down as many of these questions as you can think of. Then select one and begin creating a list of humorous responses. Come up with half a dozen or more. I can tell you from experience that the first few will probably be the funniest—but also the most perilous. (The purpose here is to defuse the bomb, not light the fuse!)

For leaders, your goal is not to get into a power struggle, but to reach a resolution. If you practice, you’ll find a response that will placate the situation and allow you to move the conversation in a more productive direction.

For salespeople, your goal is not to be a wise-ass, but to lessen tension and lighten the mood.

It was 1984, and the second presidential debate between Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan was underway. After the first debate, critics observed that Reagan looked tired, and they wondered if he might be too old for the job. Understanding how this precarious issue could affect the outcome of the debate—and the election—Reagan’s team went to work and prepared his response.

Sure enough, shortly after the debate commenced, a reporter asked Reagan, “Given the fact that you are already the oldest president in U.S. history, would you really be able to function should a crisis arise?”

Reagan assured the reporter that he’d be perfectly capable of dealing with any situation at hand—and then he quipped—”I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

When the laughter died down, so did the question of Reagan’s age. And he was elected president for a second term.

When you’re engaged in a difficult conversation, people often pose what author Malcolm Kushner calls a “Hostile Question.” The purpose of their question isn’t really to gain information, but to challenge you, embarrass you, make you express frustration, and put you in a negative light. You might hear questions like, “Who do you think you are?!” or “Whose budget is this coming out of?!”

You have numerous ways to approach the situation. You can be serious. You can debate. You can take the situation elsewhere. You can walk away. You can BS your way out. Or you can defuse the situation with humor. All of these approaches can succeed, but determining the right choice at the right time requires some discernment on your part.

Used strategically, humor can alter the hierarchy, placing you in a more powerful position. It is a sign of confidence, and a way of taking charge. The goal is not to get the other person laughing so hard that you can escape unnoticed, but to defuse tension, establish more control, and then guide the conversation in the direction that you want.

For leaders, humor can make people more receptive to your messages, build good relationships with employees, and build a more positive and productive corporate culture. For salespeople, humor can break the ice, ease tension, enhance communications, differentiate you from your competitors, and make you more memorable.

Set yourself apart by being strategic with your humor. Think back to a time when you were faced with hostile questions, particularly ones you might face again. Write down as many of these questions as you can think of. Then select one and begin creating a list of humorous responses. Come up with half a dozen or more. I can tell you from experience that the first few will probably be the funniest—but also the most perilous. (The purpose here is to defuse the bomb, not light the fuse!)

For leaders, your goal is not to get into a power struggle, but to reach a resolution. If you practice, you’ll find a response that will placate the situation and allow you to move the conversation in a more productive direction.

For salespeople, your goal is not to be a wise-ass, but to lessen tension and lighten the mood.

Whether you’re dealing with irritable staff, cranky customers or obstinate teenagers—humor is a powerful means of defusing difficult conversations.

Karyn Buxman, neurohumorist, is the author of the book Lead with Levity: Strategic Humor for Leaders and creator of an 18 (or 30) day online program to help leaders authentically, consistently and strategically use humor to enhance communication, build resilience and boost engagement. Click here to listen to 3 sample lessons.

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Humor as a Negotiation Tool—or—How Humor Saved the World

OCTOBER 1962 — The world held its breath as America and Russia went to the brink, with nuclear weapons at the ready. Russia was installing nuclear missiles in Cuba—a mere 90 miles from the Florida coast. The 13-day crisis played-out in real time on TV around the world.

As American and Soviet delegates came together to negotiate, tensions were high, and they soon became deadlocked. And then…a Russian delegate told a joke: “What is the difference between Capitalism and Communism? In Capitalism, man exploits man. In Communism, it is the other way around.”

Delegates on both sides laughed, and this created a bond among all of them. (Hey, ya gotta start somewhere!) With the tension eased for the moment, talks resumed, and eventually a deal was struck that avoided blowing up the planet—no small feat!

Whether you’re negotiating for world peace or for which movie to go to, humor can play a crucial role in your success.

According to a recent study on business negotiations, humor has numerous functions in the negotiation process. It can put the negotiators at ease; it can introduce a difficult issue; it can foster togetherness and team spirit; it can help the other negotiator save face; and it can be a way of being cooperative in spite of disagreement.

Additional studies show that if you can inject humor into your negotiations, you’re more likely to get what you’re negotiating for.

Once when I was negotiating with a potential client over the phone, it became obvious that budget was a delicate topic. I could feel the tension rising, and when he posed the question: “How much is this going to cost me?” I wanted to reduce the tension.

I paused and said, “Are you sitting down??” He laughed, and from that point, the conversation about money went smoothly.

Those four little words, spoken in just the right tone of voice, have helped me close dozens of deals over the years.

Think strategically. Who do you negotiate with? It might be with a colleague, a competitor, a customer, an employee, a boss, a colleague or even a family member. (You do understand, I hope, that getting a child to go to bed is not something that you command, but rather something you negotiate. Some of those rugrats make Johnnie Cochran look like an amateur. And don’t even get me started on teenagers!)

What are you negotiating for? Examine it and look for an opportunity to weave in a little humor—like a humorous and relevant anecdote, a funny comment or gesture. You probably want to start with something whimsical. Something short. Something that relates to the situation at hand. Negotiations are often important and intense, so use humor wisely, cautiously and professionally. (No “sharp jabs” like Don Rickles is famous for!)

The ability to successfully negotiate is a helpful skill for everyone, but it’s an essential tool for anyone who plans to sell or lead. You may not be called upon to save the world from nuclear war—but I guarantee that sometime soon you will be called upon to save a deal, or make the sale, or advance your agenda in some manner. Humor, used strategically, can make you a more powerful and effective negotiator.

Karyn Buxman, neurohumorist, is the author of the book Lead with Levity: Strategic Humor for Leaders and creator of an 18 (or 30) day online program to help leaders authentically, consistently and strategically use humor to enhance communication, build resilience and boost engagement. Click here to listen to 3 sample lessons.

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Leadership: “Sarcasm—Handle with Care”

sarcasm
“I’m trying to imagine you with a personality.”

“This isn’t an office. It’s Hell with fluorescent lighting.”

“Don’t bother me. I’m livin’ the dream.”

Sarcasm. Gotta love it, don’t ya? Used for comic effect and dry criticism throughout the ages—by us common folks and by the famous.

Oscar Wilde observed: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”

Stephen Bishop said: “I feel so miserable without you, it’s almost like having you here.”

Mark Twain once quipped: “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”

Sarcasm. You hear it nearly every day, from all kinds of people, in all kinds of situations.

[Yeah, we all know—or think we know—exactly what sarcasm is. But for the meticulous among you, here’s the precise definition, according to Webster’s Dictionary: “the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say—especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny.”]

Sometimes sarcasm works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sarcasm does work when it bonds like-minded people together, and when it produces just the right level of chuckle. Sarcasm doesn’t work when it’s wielded like a weapon—when it’s used to cut someone down to size, especially when they’re not in a position to defend themselves.

Leaders need to learn how and when to employ sarcasm, and also how to recognize and deal with it when your employees/followers use it.

Among equals/friends/insiders sarcasm is often used as friendly jousting. It can be an entertaining and intellectually stimulating exercise in bantering. But when directed at strangers/outsiders/visitors sarcasm is cruel and unfair—producing embarrassment, anger and resentment. (Not good things to stir-up in your people!)

Sarcasm used well is like fencing: Battling as a friendly sport. Sarcasm used poorly is like aggressive fighting with a sharpened blade.

Because sarcasm can definitely cause harm, hurt feelings, and even damage someone’s standing in the group, many leaders simply ban sarcasm (and often any kind of humor) from the workplace. This is not a good idea for two reasons:

(1)  It’s actually impossible to stop people from using humor. You can censor it, but you’ll only drive it underground—where it can backfire on you as it subverts your authority. (Also, humor is hard-wired into the human brain. You literally can’t stop humor from arising spontaneously).

(2)  Humor—including sarcasm—can be a tremendously positive force among people and inside organizations. Humor can bond people, it can ease tensions, it can enhance communication and it has been shown to enhance the bottom line.

And here are some facts from the scientists who study such stuff: positive humor can produce a dopamine hit which leads to feel-good sensations throughout the body. But hostile humor can evoke stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin, which lead to inflammatory responses throughout the body that exacerbate illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

One insight that eludes many users of sarcasm is that cruel sarcasm reflects poorly on them. Bystanders are likely to judge them as boorish and vicious. Not an image that many leaders want to project!

Wise leaders use humor—including sarcasm—in an intentional and strategic manner. It’s a subtle skill. But then, great leaders know how to wield a host of tools to help them direct human behavior.

As a neurohumorist—one who studies the intersection of humor and the brain—I utilize many different forms of humor. But sarcasm? Me? Never!

© 2016, Karyn Buxman. All rights reserved.  Reprints welcome so long as the article and byline are reprinted intact and all links made live.

Karyn Buxman, neurohumorist, is the author of the book Lead with Levity: Strategic Humor for Leaders and creator of an 18 (or 30) day online program to help leaders authentically, consistently and strategically use humor to enhance communication, build resilience and boost engagement. Click here to listen to 3 sample lessons.

She can also be reached via:

Karyn@KarynBuxman.com
Twitter: @KarynBuxman
Facebook: FB.com/KarynBuxmanSpeaks
LinkedIn: Linkedin.com/in/KarynBuxman
Candy-grams: 1465 C St. #3318 SD, CA 92101
Smoke signals: avoid when prohibited by fire season!

Posted in: Humor, Leadership

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Leadership and Humor: Jolly Good!

As I began the interview for my podcast, I looked at his boyish grin and into his playful eyes. “My guest today is Chade-Meng Tan, and he’ll be sharing his insights on leading with levity.”

Meng got a puzzled look on his face and said, “Levity? Oh, I thought we’d be talking about levitation. I guess I’ll have to throw out my notes!”

“Uh-oh,” I thought. “This might be a disaster!”

Chade-Meng Tan then tipped back his head and laughed. Perhaps I should mention that Meng is known as Google’s Jolly Good Fellow. “Leaders need to establish trust—and humor is one way of establishing trust,” he said.

Recently retired from Google (at age 45), Meng is an award-winning engineer, bestselling author, TED talk presenter (check out his TED talk  where he shares his insight: “Compassion Is Fun”), and Co-chair of One Billion Acts of Peace, which has been nominated seven times for the Noble Peace Prize. As a leader, he demonstrates that you can use humor not only to lead in your workplace or organization, but on a global scale.

In your pursuit of better leadership skills you’ve collected an extensive set of tools: Focus. Vision. Values. Strategy. Tactics. Emotional intelligence. Goal-setting. Decision-making. Storytelling. Mentoring. Humor.

Humor??!

I’ve noticed that MBA programs rarely teach humor. And business books don’t extoll the benefits of humor in the corporate—or any organizational—setting. And that’s too bad, because humor is a tool that enhances many of the other leadership tools that you use. Humor enhances communication; bonds teams; improves retention; increases productivity; and improves profitability.

The effectiveness of humor used to be anecdotal. But now it’s a scientifically proven fact that humor has physiological, psychological, and social benefits. Over the past several decades neuroscientists, psychologists, social scientists, and integrative scientists have been ferreting out the secrets of humor.

Research from Wharton, MIT, and London Business School reveal the practical benefits of humor in the workplace. Even “The Harvard Business Review” acknowledges that humor is an important leadership skill.

As a leader, you need a variety of tools that will help you better guide, direct, and inspire others: Your overall temperament and personal style; the manner in which you give guidance, instructions and reprimands; your ability to adapt your techniques to each person and each team you’re addressing (“emotional intelligence,” anyone?!); the tone of your voice; the different styles of communications for one-on-one interactions, for small group meetings, and for large audience situations; your flexibility, your writing style; your confidence; your level of expertise, and—your use of humor.

A good leader knows that when humor happens by chance, positive things can happen. But a great leader knows that humor applied with purpose, intention and mindfulness can change the world.

Karyn Buxman, neurohumorist, is the author of the book Lead with Levity: Strategic Humor for Leaders and creator of an 18 (or 30) day online program to help leaders authentically, consistently and strategically use humor to enhance communication, build resilience and boost engagement. Click here to listen to 3 sample lessons.

She can also be reached via:

Karyn@KarynBuxman.com
Twitter: @KarynBuxman
Facebook: FB.com/KarynBuxmanSpeaks
LinkedIn: Linkedin.com/in/KarynBuxman
Candy-grams: 1465 C St. #3318 SD, CA 92101
Smoke signals: avoid when prohibited by fire season!

Posted in: Business, Humor, Leadership

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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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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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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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