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Did you know that laughter is the secret of leadership?

THE ASIAN AGE. | JAY KUMAR HARIHARAN
Published : Jun 21, 2019, 3:46 am IST
Updated : Jun 21, 2019, 3:46 am IST

Call us snobs, but the only cards we accept are our own.

Rewire: How To Be the Leader of Your Own Life By Jay Kumar Hariharan Leadstart pp.250, Rs 150.
 Rewire: How To Be the Leader of Your Own Life By Jay Kumar Hariharan Leadstart pp.250, Rs 150.

A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done. Dwight D. Eisenhower

You know, I forget how young you are, Mitch, that you think you have to be a prick to get things done, and that you actually think that that's a new idea. From the movie Patch Adams

A Robert Half International survey found that 91% of executives believed a sense of humor was important for career advancement; 84% felt that people with a good sense of humor did a better job. Another study, by Bell Leadership Institute, found the two most desirable traits in leaders were a strong work ethic and a good sense of humor.

A sense of humour, either you have it or you don't, right? Not at all. Humour is as learnable a skill as anything else. We are all social animals and we become friends when laughter binds us together. If there is one thing about myself that I am extremely sure about, it is that I smile a lot and I laugh a lot, at many things, including myself. The more senior we get, we think we have lost the license to laugh. In some organisations it is almost as if the entire senior management team is walking around with their anal sphincters tightened around a cactus. A healthy camaraderie helps in diffusing conflicts and makes work enjoyable. One of my bosses was an amazing human being to work with. Doesn't it all start there? I felt I was working with a friend, who was also my leader. I would have gladly marched into any battlefield for him.

Being me, I have been guilty of pushing the boundaries of that relationship. There was a time when we shared a secretarial resource who would handle all admin related tasks — airline and hotel bookings, expense statements etc. I was perennially late in claiming my expenses. Once, on the last day to claim expenses, my secretary walked in and asked for my driver's name. In Puckish humour, I put in my Boss's name. My wary secretary wanted to know who would sign for this. I replied, “Who do you think?” So she marched off to the Boss' cabin and got it signed!

That day, we all laughed so hard we really felt like family. It would have been wholly understandable if my Boss had got peeved and told me off. Instead, he chose to have a good laugh and sometimes that sense of lightness made work a lot more interesting and fun. This does not mean fostering frat boy banter, especially if hurts someone. That just isn't acceptable. But a convivial environment  is a great place to work and have fun. People will enjoy and vie to work with you. Because you spend a large chunk of your waking hours @ work, you want it to be a pleasurable experience. Humour, when used right, can help to build teams, diffuse conflicts and enable you to influence those around you in the most positive way.

Humour is a great stress buster and a humanising experience, apart from being a great leveller. It is a great ice breaker and conversation lubricant. It enables us to shift gears and switch to a refreshed approach to problem-solving. Our authentic selves come out when indulging in humorous banter and also unlocks creative problem- solving capabilities. Brands like Zappos and Southwest Airlines have used humour brilliantly in their campaigns .

Here is a plug for one of my favourite watering holes from back in the day. If you were a Bangalorean who liked beer, Pecos on Church Street (yep, the original one),was a classic. Superb food, great music and a garage ambience. It's definitely not glitzy and glamorous.  In fact, some would say it is fairly dilapidated. But these gems highlight that they are okay with what they have to offer. In fact, reverse snobbery works well with their target audience:

Upstairs for beer; downstairs to the loo; no wonder our customers are fit.

Call us snobs, but the only cards we accept are our own. They did not accept credit cards. Just because we look like a garage, you won't get a screwdriver here. They serve beer. Self-deprecatory humour used smartly makes us more approachable and the more approachable you are, the more people tend to be honest and open around you. Who would you like to work with? With a brilliant grinch with no sense of humour (you might learn, but it won't be a fun ride)?

So how does one cultivate a sense of humour when it's not a natural part of your make-up? It takes work, like everything else. Start at the beginning; understand yourself and ask what puts a smile on your face; start narrating a humorous idea or take. This is a skill that needs to be constantly revisited. Watch stand-up comedy acts; practise telling a few jokes; think of absurdities that make you laugh and communicate them.

Excerpted from Jay Kumar Hariharan’s Rewire: How To Be the Leader of Your Own Life with permission from Leadstart Publishers

Tags: jay kumar hariharan, rewire