When a Leader is So Funny, it Hurts

Posted by in Organizations & Leadership, Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

How Humor Can Help or Hurt Relationships

Although every leader has their own style, some are genuine and others are manufactured. Steve Jobs was terrific at inspiring his employees with the innovative vision that Apple so desperately needed. Yet, he also managed to instill terror in the hearts and minds of his employees. Regardless of whether this approach is a replicable model to be taught in business schools, it was genuine. Like it or not, this is just who Steve was. He was not out to make friends, rather, he was committed to his vision and mandate.

Then, there are the leaders take a folksy, humorous approach, where self-deprecation paves the way to creating an environment of humility and friendliness. Employees seem to enjoy coming to a work environment where the boss has reduced the culture of stress and fear and create one of camaraderie. But does this approach really work for maximizing productivity?

It all depends on whether this person is genuine or fake.

Humor is a powerful tool to help put people at ease and build bridges. However, many people use humor as a defense mechanism aimed at protecting themselves when feeling vulnerable. When the CEO is insecure and hides behind humor, it will only last so long before he or she is exposed.

For instance, if unable to remember the names of his or her employees, the CEO dodges uncomfortable encounters by injecting humor, quips and creating witty nicknames, it might seem funny (at least for the first or second time around). However, when this pattern is compounded, people recognize it as being disingenuous. Ultimately, the leader is seen as a fake and may quickly lose the confidence of his team.

There is little shame in being genuine and showing that you care enough to ask an employee to remind you of their name. When employees only see a façade and cannot quite put their finger on who their boss really is, it creates a heightened discomfort, fear, and inability to trust.

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While Steve Jobs may have scared his employees half to death, they knew full well who they were dealing with. However, when a leader is disingenuous and hides behind quick one-liners, he or she may feel safe and protected, but the organization as a whole will remain vulnerable.

Employees thrive when they feel that they are part of an organization which engenders trust and honesty.

A strong leader will constantly strive to be self-aware, know their talents and humbly own their weaknesses. It is through genuine honesty and even being fallible from time to time, that leaders can instill trust, faith and loyalty in the hearts of their employees. 


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