I voted yesterday. Even more important, for the first time, so did my two youngest daughters. As they received their ballots, the volunteers led a cheer and a clap. I felt a rising emotion, a sense of pride in my daughters, my community, and my country. When they exited the building with their “I Voted” stickers I knew our democracy would continue regardless of the outcome of this presidential election. Driving home amidst the vibrant colors of fall, bathed in the warm evening sun, I could not help thinking about what lessons I could learn from these most visible of leaders, our presidents.
In my book, Lead With Imagination, I wrote that “Organizations are by nature, human.” I went on to make a case that while no one disagrees that life and leadership are both serious endeavors, it doesn’t mean that as leaders we always have to take ourselves so seriously. In Daniel H. Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, he writes, “Laughing people are more creative people. They are more productive people. People who laugh together can work together.” In my experience, laughter is the universal language and humor connects humanity. It gives us energy and increased capacity to handle stress and challenge. It makes us more resilient.
Pulling into the driveway, I had an idea. A simple and arguably a very non-scientific one. I made a list of the most recent American Presidents, Bill Clinton-D, George W. Bush-R, Barack Obama-D, and Donald Trump-R. Then I went to YouTube and searched "Bill Clinton Laughing". I counted the number of unique clips, made a subjective note about the type of humor used and if it had a humanizing and connective effect on me. I repeated the process for each name.
The result surprised me in two ways (I would strongly encourage you to take a few minutes to repeat my experiment). First, I found the D and R labels diminished as the authenticity of the laughter rolled through me. Second, I felt more connected and supportive of the men, despite any of my political or policy leanings. Humor, it seems, is non-partisan and even in our differences and divisions, remains at the core of our humanity and whole person-ness.
During difficult and uncertain circumstances, as we’re all facing today, infusing humor into our endeavors provides a high return on investment. Trevor Smith, Certified Laughter Leader of the World Laughter Tour, Inc., shares, “Humor lightens one's burdens, inspires hopes, and keeps us grounded, focused and alert… the ability to laugh easily and frequently is a tremendous resource in confronting any crisis situation.”
Humor it turns out is an essential leadership quality: for building trust, developing curiosity, creativity and innovation, and leading under pressure. One of our most significant leaders and past presidents, Dwight Eisenhower, said it very plainly, “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.”
Who is ready to get along and to get some things done?
(In part II we will explore some additional ways to use humor and its benefits)