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.
I’ve noticed that MBA programs rarely teach humor. And business books don’t extol 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.