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The Strategic Humor of Ronald Reagan
Leaders could learn a thing or two about the use of humor from former U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
In a room full of intelligence operatives, Ronald Reagan once suggested he knew the room was bugged because every time he sneezed, the chandelier said, “Gesundheit!” He delighted in delivering one-liners.
Like many great leaders, Reagan viewed humor as a strategic tool to disarm audiences, create reassurance, make an important point indirectly, release tension, and to set norms for what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
Tremendously clever, Reagan also used humor to abruptly shift a topic he no longer favored. When he wanted to pivot a conversation or end a discussion, he told a joke or an anecdote. Those with experience came to know that any joke inserted during the discussion meant the debate was now over and it was time to move on.
For Reagan, humor was more than a bag of tricks. It was the bag itself.
For the best leaders, humor is a device that serves a myriad of functions. Like Reagan, wise leaders value the power of humor to achieve outcomes in a fundamentally human way. Humor binds and connects people, cultures, and differences. When used strategically, perhaps nothing has more utility to a savvy leader.