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Why Humor Is Important In Leadership

“Humor is the great thing, the saving thing.
The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away
and a sunny spirit takes their place.”
Mark Twain

“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership,
of getting along with people, of getting things done.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower


America is currently in the middle of one of the toughest Presidential Campaigns in quite some time. Some polls have indicated that Senator John McCain’s attack ads targeted at Senator Barack Obama may be backfiring and causing him to slip in the polls in the crucial closing weeks before the election. Americans seem to be tired of the negativity and turning away from it.

So it was a breath of fresh air when both candidates “suspended” their negativity for a charity event last night in NYC. McCain and Obama each roasted the other (and themselves) at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria and both came away looking much more human and likable because of it.

Humor is a very powerful tool in the leaders toolbox.

First and foremost, it can relieve tremendous stress like that which both of these candidates must be feeling in the closing weeks of their campaigns. No matter how much we think of them as rough and tumble professional politicians, they are still human beings and suffer from many of the same stresses that we do.

Second, humor can cause leaders to take a step back to see things differently and from new perspectives.

Third, it can make leaders appear friendlier and more human to others. Even a simple smile will often create a bridge across a previously uncrossable chasm.

After the recent debates and being bombarded by negative political advertising on the television, radio and Internet for the past month, watching the candidates trade jokes instead of mean spirited half truths about each other was really a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, most voters will probably not get to see the above footage but if they did they might draw different opinions of these men and I bet both of them would benefit from it.

Stress relief from laughter? Yes, no joke Mayo Clinic website

Humor as stress relief – UnderstandingU – University of Michigan

Al Smith – Website / Wikipedia

Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation

About the author

Peter A. Mello, Founder/Editor Founder of Weekly Leader and Sea-Fever Consulting, LLC, a leadership development and strategic communications consultancy. Previously, CEO of an international nonprofit organization and COO of a national insurance/risk management services firm. Peter has been leading people and managing organizations for over 30 years, writes a leadership column for MarineNews magazine and blogs about maritime culture at Sea-Fever. Follow him on Twitter.

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Posted in Politics + Government, Toolbox.

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