Of all the qualities of true leaders, humor is one that is rarely discussed.
That’s partly because leadership is serious business. And the qualities of leaders — e.g., empathy, competence, vision, political instinct — can seem rather somber.
But humor is truly key.
Why? Think about the many stressors that any group — be it a loosely knit coalition of neighbors or a streamlined web development department. Competitiveness, greed, deadlines, back stabbing — they can all rear their ugly heads. And if it’s a team that has anything to do with making a profit, there’s the ever-present fear that if the profit isn’t high enough, one’s job might go kaput.
Humor works on several layers. When used appropriately, it can dispel tension. It can also engender support, by making potential followers feel comfortable with you. As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.”
Humor can also help you clarify differences of opinion among your teammates (using a gentle teasing tone), thereby keeping the lines of communication open. I.e., information conveyed with a smile and a laugh can be a lot easier to take than that conveyed with a grimace and a tight tone of voice — even when the content is essentially the same.
Of course, humor can go all wrong if it’s inappropriate (e.g., if you’re being racist, sexist, or otherwise minimizing someone else’s experience, skills, or way of being). But when used skillfully — and deliberately — humor can go a long way towards both reassuring your followers that you’re trustworthy and fun — and strengthening connections to others.