Friday, June 15, 2018

Leadership Lesson Series: Humor

Before beginning the service, a pastor read aloud a note he’d been handed moments earlier. “It says here that I should announce that there will be no B.S. tomorrow morning,” he said. Smirking, he tucked the piece of paper into a pocket and added, “I’m hoping they mean ‘Bible Study.’” There are many leadership traits worth pursuing. One that should be at the top of your list is humor! This trait is often neglected or discounted by aspiring leaders. Many see humor as simply a hereditary characteristic, either you have it, or you don’t. Humor is in fact, a trait that can and should be developed.

Some people seem to be blessed with a great sense of humor. They are able to walk into any room and have all the occupants clutching their sides with laughter within minutes. Others seem to lack much of a sense of humor. But research has demonstrated that we can be taught humor.1 As children grow they learn about new types of humor and also how to make people laugh. Adults can learn humor too. Of course, some people will always be more funny than most of us. Variety is a good thing.

As a leader, humor is a tool. You do not have to be the funniest person you know. Simply knowing how to insert a joke like the one in the opening paragraph at the right time during a conversation makes the difference between a marginal leader, and a good leader. This will become apparent if you think back to all the great leaders you have admired. Some mistakenly equate humor with weakness or foolishness. Certainly, too much humor and clowning around is a barrier to good leadership. There is a time for such excess mirth. But a good leader is one that knows when to use humor and how much is appropriate. How can you learn to use humor?

Humor is a type of communication. As with all forms of communication, it is not an easy skill to master for most. This is because humor is more of an art form than anything else. It requires practice and time. It will also require trial and error. The key to successful humor is to never offend. It is better to neglect humor than to cause offense. If you accidentally do offend someone, correct your mistake by humbly apologizing as soon as possible. Offenses can usually be avoided with a bit of homework. Listen to conversations around you. Learn from other’s humor. Learn what hurts other’s feelings and avoid those remarks. This is especially important when you are working among a culture that is not very familiar to you!

A great way to begin to use humor as a tool in leadership is to borrow jokes. When you hear one that makes others laugh, write it down and memorize it. One of the greatest comedians of the 20th century, Phillis Diller, had several file cabinets of hundreds of jokes she used regularly! Humor does not have to be original, in fact, it very rarely is truly original. The key is to repeat a joke in new company, and don’t repeat it in the same company for some time. If you heard a joke at the store, then it is easy to repeat it at work (assuming it is appropriate). Avoid repeating the same joke too often or with in the same company as it will likely not be as funny the second or third time around. It is also useful to modify a joke slightly to new circumstances. This keeps it fresh.

In leadership, humor becomes a tool when used at the right time. Cracking a mildly funny joke to break the tension in a heated conversation is a priceless ability. A few punch lines or funny stories inserted into an otherwise boring talk or sermon will help keep your audience interested. A bit of self-deprecating humor goes a long way to earn the trust of new acquaintances, especially those who are your new subordinates. It can express humility. Sarcasm can be funny at times, but it should be used modestly, or it becomes grating. Exaggeration is another humor technique. It is also best used in moderation.

Wit is perhaps the best type of humor to use as a leader. It demonstrates creativity and deep thinking. It can also be one of the most difficult types of humor to learn. It requires spontaneity, which does not come easy for many leaders. To improve your wittiness, you must first convince yourself it is something you can learn! Next you must be patient. Wit takes practice to master. If you are a shy leader, engage in conversation, focus on what makes different people laugh. Most importantly, discover what makes you laugh. What type of humor do you enjoy. If you find something funny, there are bound to be others who will find it funny too. Analyze your own conversations to distinguish what types of things you say that make others laugh.

I have observed in religious circles humor can sometimes be looked upon as unwelcome or even ungodly. This I think is unbiblical. Jesus himself used humor in his public ministry. If you have never laughed when reading the Bible than you are reading it wrong. God invented humor! Just look at creation, how many animals have you seen that make you laugh aloud? Social media is full of videos of cute animals doing silly things! King Solomon wisely proclaimed the benefits of a merry heart when he said it is a fantastic medicine (Proverbs 17:22). Humor always brings cheer and makes your heart merry! Jesus is not just a powerful God to fear, he is also a friend who wants to engage in every aspect of our life, including laughter!

Laughter has many benefits including reducing stress and increasing the interpersonal bonds among all those who share it. Two key goals of any leader. Some leaders mistakenly relegate humor to certain times or places and leave no room for it when getting “down to business.” Good leaders understand that a bit of humor allowed even while conducting “business” will improve attitudes and increase productivity. It will improve your appearance as a leader and others confidence in your ability. A good sense of humor will help reduce burnout and increase the likelihood people want to keep you in a leadership position.

Whether you feel your sense of humor is already good or quite lacking, it is time you seek to improve it and learn to use it more effectively. Seek to implement the tips above and read more about developing a good sense of humor. You may even find it useful to get instruction through a humor class. An effective leader will employ humor more than harshness. Grow your own sense of humor as a leadership trait and pray that God will give you the wisdom and ability to do so. Seek to discover how God uses humor throughout the Bible. A good leader enjoys laughter. As famous comedian Bob Newhart said, “People with a sense of humor tend to be less egocentric and more realistic in their view of the world and more humble in moments of success and less defeated in times of travail.”


1. Jen Kim. Can You Teach Someone to Be Funny? (Nov. 16, 2016). Psychology Today. Accessed March 10, 2018 from

Written by David F. Garner