Humor – A Great Leadership Tool

Posted by Matt Berringer on March 17, 2016


By Dr. Ramiro Zuniga

Several years back I was leading a morning meeting at central office during lean times. District personnel had just received the directive to immediately forego the customary snacks and drinks at future meetings as a cost saving tactic, effective immediately. Of course, I complied. This, obviously, did not sit well with some of our campus principals.

The rationale for this was simple. Principals typically arrived to their campuses early in the morning. Many were the first to leave their campus and the last to go home. Principals had become accustomed to taking advantage of morning meeting snacks. I am sure that I would have done the same in their position.

In any case, I was about to start my meeting when a veteran principal called me out, “Where are the donuts?” You could have cut the tension in the room. Everyone waited, in anticipation for my response. My response went as follows, “You know, last night before I went to bed, I wrote ‘donuts’ on a pad by my nightstand. Well, I was so sleepy this morning that when I read the note, I saw, ‘do not’ and so I didn’t”

The room exploded in laughter! Everyone understood the directive and the position that I was put in by the principal. My response broke the tension immediately and I was able to continue the meeting with everyone feeling more relaxed. In fact, the veteran principal slapped my back as he was leaving when the meeting ended. As he walked away I heard him say, “That was a good one.”

I still recycle that same response today.

This situation is just one of many instances where I have used humor to improve the atmosphere.

I have used humor to keep people engaged during discussions of material that can be stale and put them to sleep, literally sometimes. I have used humor to ease individuals who were nervous about upcoming training.

Humor is a great way to start a professional relationship. Humor builds trust and credibility. People generally open up more to someone that is easy to get along with and not stuck solely on business.

One of the greatest benefits of using humor is that the staff that you supervise will see you as more approachable. They will see that you are human and not just their boss.

Interestingly, there have been several studies which point out that leaders with a sense of humor are actually perceived to be more competent. This is especially true during a crisis.

As with any tool, it is important to not overdo the humor. A balance must be maintained so that you are still taken seriously in your leadership role. And, of course, you must be sincere in all that you do. Insincere attempts at humor will generally not be well received. Similarly, the humor must not be offensive or inappropriate as that kind of humor has the opposite effect.

I will end by saying that we all can appreciate humor in the workplace. Who knew that it was such a good leadership practice?

Topics: Best Practices, CTO, Leadership, Opinion, Ramiro Zuniga