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Leaders Don’t Tell Jokes
There’s a difference between a joke and a humorous story.
Jokes make fun of people and events. They get retold because the surprise they contain usually confirms a bias or hidden truth. But invariably, someone on the receiving end of the joke doesn’t hold the bias or see the truth. To make matters worse, they often see themselves in the people or events at the brunt of the derision. The odds a joke won’t offend someone goes down with every telling.
Good leaders avoid telling jokes. They understand the downside of offending, demeaning, or insulting others is never worth the laugh. Yet, they also understand and appreciate the power of humor. So, they tell humorous stories instead.
Personal and funny stories are both genuine and engaging. They help leaders to build rapport and connection with others. Better yet, because they are almost always self-effacing, they make leaders human.
Laughing at oneself is a timeless and universal way of adding levity and energy to a conversation. The best leaders take the opportunity to do so frequently. What they always remember is that it is best if the story is about them.
Telling a humorous story about a personal pratfall or misstep requires confidence and self-security. When leaders take the chance to inject humor into a conversation or presentation, they are viewed as sharing a part of themselves that others don’t normally see. As others compare their own experiences and lives to the humorous story being told by a leader, they begin to appreciate who leaders really are.
Stories of personal frustration, surprise, parenting, prized possessions, embarrassments, lack of ability, overestimation, and incompetence make for great humor. Poking fun at yourself always gets the best laugh.
The best leaders know that the power of laughter creates a universal bond between people that is hard to break. But they also know that the pathway to laughter can easily lead to insult or ridicule instead.
Rather than feed their inner stand-up comedian, leaders look inward at themselves to create a smile. Listen to authentic leaders and you will learn there is always much to smile about.