Leadership Archives

by Canadian business speaker and author Michael Kerr. 

“Did you hear the one about the manager who got a bigger bonus because he had a great sense of humour?”       Happy People

You probably haven’t heard this one making the rounds at the water cooler, because it’s not a joke. It’s actually one finding from a study by researcher Fabio Sala—a consultant with the Hay Group’s McClelland Centre for Research and Innovation—who found a positive correlation between the size of executives’ bonuses and their use of humour. The study also found that outstanding executives use humour more than twice as often as the so-called average executives.

Studies like this point to a growing consensus that if you are serious about your career, then sometimes it pays to not be serious. At least, not too serious. Not when a healthy sense of humour can help you manage stress, spark creativity, build relationships, communicate more effectively, and stand out from the herd (not to mention earn you a bigger bonus).

This may explain why some workplaces even hire for a sense of humour, and why, if you’re in the job market, you may want to hone your humour skills. In fact, a survey of 737 CEO’s by Hodge Cronin and Associates found that a whopping 98% of them would rather hire someone with a good sense of humour than someone with a more serious demeanor.

Barry Williams, the manager of Barney’s Motel (“Rooms So Clean Even Our Mothers Are Proud!”), in Brandon, Manitoba, believes in the power of humour. So much so, that while a wing of his motel was burning to the ground, Williams changed his highway promotional sign to read: “Great Deal on Non-Smoking Rooms!”

Williams’ belief in humour is reflected in his help-wanted ads: “You LOVE to clean. . . on weekends . . . for NO wages . . . What, are you crazy? Why are you doing this for free when you could be making large coin at our place?”

Ads like these, Williams suggests, are not only more likely to get read, they also send the message that Barney’s Motel is a different kind of place to work, and that overly serious candidates need not apply.

Known for their positive use of humour both internally and with their customers, WestJet Airlines also considers attitude in their employee selection process: to become a “Westjetter” it helps to demonstrate a positive use of humour during the hiring process.

Even NASA has publicly stated that when the space agency recruits future astronauts one of the personality traits they will be looking for is humour, believing that candidates who demonstrate a sense of humour are more flexible, more creative and better able to deal with stress. (Of course, if you’re flying to Mars for 17 years with only one other crew member to keep you company, a good sense of humour might just be a lifesaver).

Once your foot is in the door, a well-flexed funny bone can also help maintain a thriving career. Humour is an important social lubricant, bonding tool and trust builder. A healthy sense of humour is also one of the most effective stress busters available, helping people distance themselves from their workplace stressors, maintain a more balanced perspective and overcome obstacles. Moreover, humour is one of the best catalysts for creative thinking, which makes sense, given that both humour and creativity are about combining unrelated ideas and looking at something in a new and different light. All these benefits are likely why a survey by Robert Half International found that 84% of the CEO’s and
H.R. directors believe people with a good sense of humour do a better job.

And as the Sala study points out, a sense of humour is even becoming an essential skill for senior executives. As humorist Bob Ross observed, “A leader without a sense of humour is like a lawn mower at a cemetery—they both have lots of people underneath them, but no one is paying them any attention.”

Senior executives set the tone for an entire workplace, and one who demonstrates a healthy sense of humour can create an environment of trust and openness. In this respect, workplace humour and laughter also serve as a useful barometer—an indicator of sorts—as to just how healthy and well-functioning a team or workplace is. After all, if there is a lot of laughter around the office, chances are people are getting along with each other, highly motivated, and working in a positive and supportive atmosphere. (And if you’re thinking this is a sign that people are slacking off and not getting their work done, think again. Several workplace productivity studies suggest that fun is a key component of success, if only for the simple reason that people perform better when they are enjoying themselves.)

So does all this suggest you need to sign up for a stand-up comedy class or turn into the office joker? Not at all. Demonstrating a healthy sense of humour in the workplace is rarely about telling jokes, and it certainly isn’t about becoming the class clown. In fact, misusing humour is also a terrific way to get yourself noticed (and not in a good way).

They key is to practice “safe humour”: humour that builds rather than divides relationships, humour that laughs with people, not at people. For as much as humour can be a beneficial career skill, we all learn at an early age that humour is also a powerful weapon—a favourite of schoolyard bullies. Therefore, offensive humour—such as sexist or racist jokes—is strictly off-limits during work hours. Sarcastic or bullying humour can also be career-damaging, and many practical jokes have resulted in lawsuits (as in the case of the employee who brought laxative-filled brownies to the office) or outright dismissal.

So what is safe, particularly in this current climate of political correctness? The first rule of safe humour is to take your job seriously, but not yourself. Learn to laugh at your own foibles and the small things that are beyond your control, like the morning traffic jam, that receding hairline, or jammed photocopier. WestJet Airlines, known for creating some in-flight turbulence with their groan-inducing one-liners, keeps their humour safe by poking fun at flight attendants or pilots.

A word of caution, however: don’t laugh too often at those things that are critical to your success. Laughing at yourself when you make a boneheaded blunder is healthy, but if you repeatedly poke fun at your own core competencies, then sooner or later folks might start believing you. Which is why WestJet pilots may joke about their hair or egos, but never about their ability to fly a plane (for this, passengers are eternally grateful).

Practicing smart humour also means keeping the humour relevant. Relevant humour—topics related to your office or profession—will have the greatest impact and is the best kind of humour for creating a sense of shared history and teamwork in a workplace.

Studies on the use of humour in such dry subjects as university level calculus showed that when the instructors incorporated humour that related to the subject at hand, also known as “concept humour,” their credibility increased.

Practicing relevant humour in business presentations keeps the talk on topic, helps people retain the information longer and demonstrates that you know the subject so well you are able to play around with it. And if your audience doesn’t get the humour, nothing is lost because by making the humour relevant you’ve still delivered your message. Smart humour can not only help you get your point across, ideally, it gets people looking at your topic in a new way.

Knowing your audience, whether it’s one or 1,000, is essential. Everyone’s sense of humour is different, so it’s important to respect those differences in a work setting. Different cultures also have very different sensibilities. In Japan, for example, any humour that brings even slight attention to another person is considered not just unfunny, but a social taboo.

Finally, the key to preventing terminal professionalism (symptoms include too many bad hair days, a permanently furrowed brow, strained relationships, and a stalled career) is to give yourself permission to just be yourself and tap into what is thought to be the most human characteristic of all, our sense of humour.

And if someone says, “You can’t be serious!,” tell them they’re absolutely right.

Then tell them the one about the executive who got the bigger bonus . . .

Sidebar: Flexing Your Funny Bone
Want to bring more humour into your work life and fine-tune your humour sense? Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

  • Read more humour, watch more humour, but be analytical. What actually makes it funny?
  • Seek out unintentional or “accidental” humour, such as signs that say things like “Ears Pierced While You Wait” (what’s the alternative?) or “Bras Half Off!” (which half?)
  • Start a humour file or journal to collect humorous material (work-related jokes, funny bloopers, alternative definitions to workplace terms or acronyms etc.) and your funny ideas about work.
  • Look for simple, safe opportunities to slip some humour into the mix, such as a meeting agenda or small presentation.
  • Write work-related Top 10 lists. Keep them short and snappy and don’t worry about being overly funny to start with, just start writing.
  • Set up a humour bulletin board in your office.
  • Bring in a humour first aid kit to help you tap into your sense of humour, stockpiling it with items that will make you laugh in the face of stress.
  • Share funny stories about how you started in the business or about early mistakes you made. They’ll help you appear more humble, confident and human.
  • Be curious, adopt a child’s mindset and ask a lot of questions: Why do people . . .? Why do we never . . . ? Why is it that . . . ? What would happen if. . .?”

Sidebar: Laughing in the Face of Stress

  • Reward yourself: attach a fun reward to your common everyday stressors. For example, every time you suffer through the commute from hell, treat yourself to a special lunch.
  • Reframe the situation: mentally play around with a situation to find something funny in it by exaggerating wildly, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, looking at it from the opposite perspective or asking yourself how the situation could be worse.
  • Reflect. Visit your “happy place” by recalling a funny event from your life.
  • Relax. Take a five-minute humour break to mentally floss away your anxiety.
  • Read a funny book. Pull out a photo of your dog dressed in a nightgown. Or use a laugh-line: phone a friend and give them one minute to make you laugh.
  • Remember, when it comes to managing your own stress, the only person you need to worry about amusing, is yourself.


Michael Kerr is the author of “Inspiring Workplaces” and “You Can’t Be Serious! Putting Humour to Work.”  Michael is a Hall of Fame business speaker, very funny motivational speaker, and trainer on the topics of workplace culture, business creativity and humor in the workplace. Reach Michael at 1-866-609-2640 or via e-mail at mike@mikekerr.com. For more free articles, resources, and DVDs on this topic surf on over to www.mikekerr.com .  And be sure to sign up for his raved about weekly e-zine, Humor at Work.

A lot…

I recently began writing another book. Not wanting to embark on this adventure alone, I contacted a few friends who I knew wanted to do the same thing. The agreement was simple; spend one hour a day, five days a week working on your book and be accountable to the group for time spent. So far we have already had one person drop out and the hardest part is yet to come. This is part of the email I sent the group yesterday:

“Greetings Authors,

 I trust last week was inspiring for you as you spent time crafting your masterpiece. Just a note of caution; things are about to get difficult. While we seem to be off to a good start, the real test lay ahead. This is to be expected; after all, it’s not easy carving out an hour per day to work on something new. All new initiatives begin easy enough, but later they test our resolve. Knowing this is part of the secret to pushing beyond our own unwillingness to sit and write. But after a time, as we continue to plod along, you will notice a shift in your motivation as each step takes you closer and closer to your goal. The key is to not give up.”

All great efforts to do something new go through a predictable cycle. Understanding this cycle is the key to creating sustainable long-term behavioral change, and it can be summed up by the image below. In fact, this might be one of the most important images when it comes to leading change.

Change Is Not Linear

Contrary to the evidence, we still like to believe that change is a simple linear process; we decide on what we want, we plot the path to get there and voila, there it is. But change, at least any significant change, does not work like this. Remember your last set of New Year’s resolutions? Not so linear were they! Instead of a straight path to new behavior, change is more like a deep ravine demonstrated in the drawing below.  Each one of these points on this diagram represent crucial places along any change continuum, whether its getting your work team to embrace a new piece of software, or you simply trying to lose some of your belly fat. Here is an explanation of each:

  1. The Status Quo – This is Latin for the current state of affairs. This is where we exist on a day-to-day basis with relative ease thanks to what psychologists call Automaticity. It’s a fancy word for being on autopilot, like the way you drive your car. Your habits and lifestyle are deeply embedded in your neural circuitry.
  2. The Catalyst – At some point, your status quo is interrupted by a catalyst; a friend asks you if you want to write a book while he writes his, you watch a documentary on juicing and vow to change your diet, or perhaps its time your company rebrands itself with updated mission, vision and value statements. This catalyst causes you to make immediate behavioral changes in order to line up with your new goals. These are exciting times as you launch into your new endeavor with eyes set on the prize. This state of elevated performance is supported partly by the excitement of change. The problem though is that it only lasts about 7-21 days before the shimmer begins to fade.
  3. The Dip – When it comes to behavioral change, things always get harder before they get easier. There are many reasons for this but one has to do with energy. Embarking on something new takes energy, in fact a lot of energy. Change means new decisions, more self-denial, and a disruption of your current life, all of which suck energy from your brain. This leaves us tired and discouraged, and vulnerable for a relapse. The key to surviving the dip is persisting long enough to reach automaticity; that big word for not having to think about what you’re doing.
  4. The Climb – After persisting long enough (research out of University College of London says on average 66 days) you will begin to make progress. This will come in tiny steps but each new one takes you closer to your goal. As you continue, you build momentum and momentum finally leads you to E.
  5. The Goal – Your new behavior, supported by a fresh neural pathway in your brain, has become automatic and requires less thought and energy. This enables your brain to devote resources to other things like enjoying your life again, and finding new things to change.

 

People are amazingly good at point A and pretty adept at point B as well. Where the majority of us falter is at C; The Dip. But if we recognize how change works, both personally and organizationally, we can better prepare ourselves. Some of the things you can do to help are:

  1. Don’t commit to changing too many things at once. In fact one thing is better than two.
  2. During The Dip focus on finding small daily wins in your execution of small behaviors and not the final goal. Remember the lesson of tiny steps. They seem insignificant at the time but if you stick with them they lead you someplace great.
  3. If you are leading others through change, The Dip requires a lot of extra support, motivation,  and communication from you. How you lead during The Dip will be the difference between succeeding or failing.
  4. If you are going to add something new to your life, figure out what you are going to subtract in order to make room for it. We only have so many hours in a day.
  5. Lastly, remind yourself and others that change is exciting at first, messy in the middle, but amazing in the end. This simple acknowledgement will help you persevere.

So the next time you are about to embark on a new change initiative, whether in your own life or within your organization, remember this diagram and plan your steps accordingly.

Help someone you know who is trying to make a change by forwarding this article on to them.

P.S.  Any of you have a book inside them that they want to write but you need help? I invite you to join our authors group; we are just about to head into the dip!

Don’t you hate it when you work around someone who always sees the glass as half empty? Nothing can sap your mood like a complainer. And when you try to help them see that the world (or office) is not as bad as they think, it only leads to more complaining. So what’s a person supposed to do?

Believe it or not one of the best ways to stop a complainer from complaining is to validate them.  This involves finding some kernel of truth in what they are saying and empathizing with them about it. This is counter intuitive because our natural fear is that if we agree with them, the floodgates for more complaining are going to open, but in reality the opposite is true.

Many times a complainer is simply trying to voice a frustration. They are not looking for the bright side, but rather to be listened to and understood. Once they feel like you understand what they’re frustrated about their complaining begins to die out.

So the next time you work around, (or live with) someone who is on a complaint spree, avoid trying to shift their thinking to the positive. Simply listen and try to acknowledge the frustration they must be feeling.

I hope today finds you living and leading with excellence and passion. I want to give you three big things that will only take you three minutes to execute and will make a difference in the lives of your staff.

Thing  #1 Your Enthusiasm is on Display
Regardless of what industry you are in, people want to be part of something larger than themselves. This is one of the reasons why we have things like Mission and Vision statements so together we can be strive to achieve some goal that excites us. But your staff will take their cue from you. If you are not enthusiastic about what you are doing, they will sense it. I know we can all go through our periods of not liking our job but recommitting to enthusiasm is essential. A leader’s enthusiasm is not only contagious, its comforting. It tells your people that they are working toward a worthy goal. So take a moment and check your enthusiasm. How passionate have you been lately about your work and your team? Regardless of the answer, what small thing can you do today to demonstrate your enthusiasm for your organization and your people.

Thing # 2 One of your staff want their efforts to be noticed.
When one of your staff pours their heart and soul into a task or project, there is a part of them that wonders if anybody noticed.Often as leaders we can get so busy that we forget to stop, look around, and recognize those who are working hard among us. This can be especially true of our best employees. It’s easy to take for granted that they are consistently performing well. Take one minute today to identify one of your staff or a peer and let them know you appreciate what they are doing.

Thing # 3 One of your staff members is wondering how they are doing at their job.
All of us love to know where we stand. Many of your staff will have a general sense of how they are doing, but will not be 100% sure. When people receive feedback on their progress or performance it helps reinforce a need for mastery. The feedback you give will either lead to a sense of satisfaction for them if they are on target, or it will bring them greater clarity, allowing them to see where they need to adjust and improve. Either way, the feedback will help them tremendously. Take one minute today and give one of your employees feedback on how they are doing with their job.

Three things, three minutes. Go for it!

 

P.S.

Since so much of leadership means being on the top of your game, I want to let you know about an upcoming webinar where I will teach you one of the most powerful tools to help you lead with passion and excellence. Great leadership comes down to the little things and this requires us to have a laser-like focus combined with high energy. In my webinar, Ready to Launch, I teach you how to design a morning ritual that will both energize and focus you to live and lead with excellence. You can find out more details here: Ready to Launch

 

 

 

The importance of feedback.

I want to give you four magic words that will transform your performance the next time you are asked to do something outside of your comfort zone. Yesterday I was driving to a funeral where I had been asked to share a few words. As I reflected on what I was going to say I remembered the first funeral I had ever spoken at. I was in my mid 20′s and at the time I was a young minister in training. I had been asked to conduct a funeral service for a young woman who had been tragically killed in a subway accident.

I remember agonizing for days about what to say, how to say it, and worried myself sick that I would mess it up. I will never forget the day that I arrived at the funeral home. There were people sobbing, and crying. It was a terribly sad occasion. I also remember how insecure and out of my element I felt. Everyone there was looking for me to take charge and I was looking for an exit. I thought about how draining this whole experience was and how I wished they had picked someone besides me to do this.

While I was cowering in a side room having my own pity party, it suddenly hit me. I was not the one having the tough week; these people who just lost their friend, their daughter, their sister; they were the ones having the tough time. My problem was miniscule compared to theirs. And with that simple thought came a mind shift that completely transformed how I performed. I realized that it’s not about me, it’s about them. I had become so self-focused and self conscious that I was not able to effectively do the job I was brought here to do. Once I had this on straight, it completely changed how I thought, how I felt and how I acted. In short, I forgot about me and got focused on them.

I see this same thing happen everywhere I go. I might ask someone to lead a meeting or get up in front of an audience to say a few words and their first reaction is much like me at the funeral home back when I was in my 20’s. People groan, drop their shoulders and say things like, “Can’t you find somebody else?” But what’s really going on is they have been hit with a wave of self-doubt and it’s become all about them; what they’re afraid to lose, what mistakes they’re scared of making, and how stupid they might look if the blow it. And when this is our focus, we never bring our best to the table. Self-focus steals our presence, our happiness, and causes us to play it safe. The result? We don’t get a chance to perform at our best and those around us don’t get a chance to be impacted by what we have to offer.

So the next time you are asked to do something outside of your comfort zone, and you are feeling afraid and wishing someone else could do it, simply repeat these four little words, “It’s not about me.” Doing so will lift your eyes off of yourself, allowing you to see the needs around you. It will also give you the courage to take action and make a difference in the lives of those around you.

Nine Minutes on Monday Workshop is coming to a city near you.
http://youtu.be/TLJ5deRH4YQ

 

 

Here is James Robbins speaking on leadership.

 

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