A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.

-Dwight D. Eisenhower—President United States

I know business is serious; and yet, an environment that is rich in Humor yields a higher level of productivity, stronger relationships and engages employees. In fact, Humor is integral for healthy relationships. With this in mind, are you “high-fiving” yourself because you already include Humor in your repertoire or are you planning to move Humor to the top of your leadership development list?

Why is Humor such a critical skill set for leaders and the business environment?

  • “The Harvard Business Review found that executives who used Humor effectively at work were consistently ranked ‘outstanding performers’ by their superiors and—here’s the interesting part—they also received bigger bonuses than their peers. To quote directly from the report: ‘In other words, the funnier the executives were, the bigger the bonuses.’”[i]
  • A Robert Half International survey, for instance, “found that 91% of executives believe a sense of Humor is important for career advancement; while 84% feel that people with a good sense of Humor do a better job.” [ii]
  • A new study by the Bell Leadership Institute in Chapel Hill, NC, “found that when employees are asked to describe the strengths and weaknesses of senior colleagues in their organizations, ‘sense of Humor’ and ‘work ethic’ are mentioned twice as much as any other phrases…. People appreciate leaders who have fun and work hard to get the job done…. The most effective leaders use Humor to spark people’s enthusiasm, deliver an honest message in a good-natured way, boost productivity, put people at ease, bring teams together, and see the light side of a situation.”[iii]
  • An Australian study found that “81 percent… believe a fun working environment would make them more productive; 93 percent said that laughing on the job helps to reduce work-related stress. A further 55% percent said they would take less pay to have more fun at work.”[iv]

Doesn’t that leave you thinking that you had better get started improving and accessing your funny-bone a bit more?

How do you measure up in Humor?

You won’t have to wonder if Humor is one of your strengths. The evidence of Humor is easy to spot and even easier to experience. You will see it reflected all around you through the interactions you have and the environment you create. In your mind’s eye, take a leisurely 360 degree turn to observe your colleagues. If you are noting smiles on the faces of your bosses and co-workers that reflect the one spreading across your face, there’s a good chance you’re humorous. Or if your group is cheerful and positive as well as produces a high-volume of excellent work, chances are Humor runs through your veins. Or if you note enjoyment, laughter and a light mood displayed even in the face of challenges, Humor is one of your strengths.

What is a “just right” Humor focus?

The ideal balance of Humor creates collegiality and an environment where people want to work. It is the foundation for good, healthy, work relations; one that relieve stress and stimulates productivity and creativity. As Andrew Tarvin, a humor engineer says, “Humor is not about making work funny rather it is about making work fun.”

What are some simple shifts you can make to engage your Humor?

  • Humor Can Be Learned: All it takes is spending a little time on the topic and testing out what you have learned as often as possible. It isn’t a skill that you will master in a moment; however, with thoughtful perseverance, you can bring Humor to your work environment. Yes, not everyone is going to become a standup comic with their name on the marquee, but you can lighten the mood in the room with a well-placed quip. You can be someone who brings levity to serious projects that reduces tension while eliciting more fun for all. So, challenge yourself to recognize Humor in business situations… this will open you to be more at ease with expressing your own Humor.
  • Mind Out What Makes You Laugh: If you’re not laughing at yourself, you are adding an unnecessary level of stress to your life. Laughter offers so much good that we should have “laughter breaks” instead of coffee breaks!” Laughter is infection. It binds people together, reduces conflict as it reduces the burden of your load. It is an antidote to pain and conflict as it boosts your energy and protects you from stress. Yes, start laughing as you produce a positive, humorous work environment.
  • Improvisation Class: If humor isn’t one of your strengths, get out of your comfort zone. I can’t think of anything that will do that faster and better than taking an improvisation class. Years ago, I took a writing improvisation class at UCLA. Not only did it improve my writing, but the class opened me to being present on a whole new plane of awareness. The beautiful ‘Aha’ is that Humor comes from a moment and a choice to look at the upside of life rather than the downside. By taking control, you determine how you translate your work life. When in doubt, find fun.

Can you overdo Humor?

Yes, Humor overused will have you losing not only credibility, but respect as well.

The real problem is that as with all strengths, Humor does have two sides. Unlike healthy, positive Humor, negative Humor is potentially injurious to the work environment. A culture without Humor or one that permits harmful Humor to exist tends to be a more stressful work environment with low morale and engagement. At the root of detrimental Humor often rests low self-esteem. It has a sarcastic and acidic edge to it that leaves others feeling victimized, belittled and disparaged.[v] Executives who utilize this style of Humor have seemingly forgotten that the foundational premise of Humor is laughing with—not at the expense of others.

Do you know your strengths?

I hope you found value out of this.

You will find that understanding your character strengths will not only add value to your day, it will also display a powerful role modeling behavior for your peers and employees. Keep your eyes open for the next email, which will focus on yet another strength from the VIA Character Strength Survey. Have you taken the opportunity to discover your character strengths as yet? Take 15 minutes and go to VIA Survey to receive your profile.

Want to learn more? I’d love to talk to you about connecting you and your strengths to create a life and career that is engaging, fulfilling and fun for YOU.


If you’re interested in a deeper dive into Humor, this video is really worthwhile. Barry Kudrowitz is the Assistant Professor and Director of product design at University of Minnesota. Watch as Barry connects humor, the mind and innovation.


If you have time and want a chuckle, click on this video and enjoy:


[i] How Humor Will Improve Your Corporate Culture and Your Bottom-Line, Whitepaper, Jeff Havens.

[ii] https://www.facebook.com/SmithOCSUndergraduate/posts/453467051401810

[iii] Bell Leadership Study Finds Humor Gives Leaders the Edge, March 2012.

[iv] Humor in the Workplace: Anecdotal Evidence Suggests Connection to Employee Performance, Lauren Breeze, Adrienne Dawson, Susanna Khazhinsky, St. Edward’s University.

[v] Zillman, 1983.

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