McKinsey & Company
Share this email LinkedIn Twitter Facebook
Leading Off
Click to get this newsletter weekly
A priest, a rabbi, and a Buddhist monk walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, “What is this, some kind of joke?” Yes, it is, and though it's one of the oldest and most shopworn, don't poke fun at it. Too many leaders underplay the value of humor in working with teams and their broad organizations, and they miss the punch line: humor can make people comfortable and builds empathy, communication, and morale, especially in these stressed times. (Just be careful not to cross the appropriateness line and become the star of the cautionary tale at your organization's next HR seminar.) All the more reason to humor us this week as we bring in some really smart (and funny) people to help you lead better with humor.
Know the difference between ‘ha ha’ and ‘eek’
Ask your colleagues what characteristics they value in friends and partners, and a sense of humor is likely to come up high on the list. Ask them what traits they value in leaders, and humor is not likely to make the cut. And there's the rub: we may intuit that humor matters, particularly at a time when human-centered leadership is seen as critical to maintaining cohesion and developing talent. But though some leaders use humor instinctively, many more could wield it purposefully, write the authors of “Sarcasm, self-deprecation, and inside jokes: A user's guide to humor at work.”  
The number of times babies laugh, on average, each day. People over the age of 35? 15. Clearly, there's a laughter gap that needs filling. The things that make us chuckle is a theme that runs through “Leading with humor,” a review of research on which kinds of jokes work—and why. See if that routine you practiced at home in the bathroom mirror is killing it on Zoom because it taps into your audience's sense of “benign violation.” Is that coworker's laughter really genuine? That crinkle around the eyes might reveal “Duchenne” laughter, named for the French physician who identified it. A good sign.
“If you want someone to think you are funny, don't tell them you are funny. Tell them a joke!”
So says Rolls-Royce chairman and former McKinsey managing director Ian Davis. His message, that authenticity in demonstrating desired behaviors is more important than talking about them, is also a lesson for the humorist, writes New Yorker veteran Calvin Trillin in “Some notes on funniness.” But another is that, try as we might, we can never really know what somebody is going to find funny.
photo of Naomi Bagdonas and Connor Diemand-Yauman
Humor, says Naomi Bagdonas, “is a superpower in business.” In a course at Stanford's graduate business school that she leads with Jennifer Aaker and Connor Diemand-Yauman, a member of McKinsey's Consortium for Learning Innovation, the trio explore the intersection of humor, business, and leadership. In this video, Bagdonas and Diemand-Yauman provide a sample of their zany chemistry and the underlying research that shows why bringing humor into the workplace is no joke.
And now for something completely different. Not.
photo of a red stage curtain and microphone
Do you think you're funny? Funny how? Is your humor content wholesome? Aggressive? Perhaps dark? How about your delivery? Are you spontaneous, a spotlight seeker, or subtle and nuanced? Let's visit again with our friend Naomi Bagdonas, who—as part of her recent book, Humor, Seriously, co-authored with Jennifer Aaker—has developed a humor typology that is meant to help you identify and understand your natural humor style and allow you to wield it with precision and presence. Find out if you're a Stand-up, a Sweetheart, a Magnet, or a Sniper.
Lead with laughter.
— Edited by Bill Javetski, an executive editor in McKinsey's New Jersey office
Click to get this newsletter weekly
McKinsey & Company
Follow our thinking
LinkedIn Twitter Facebook
Share these insights
Did you enjoy this newsletter? Forward it to colleagues and friends so they can subscribe too.
Was this issue forwarded to you? Sign up for it and sample our 40+ other free email subscriptions here.
Copyright © 2021 | McKinsey & Company, 3 World Trade Center, 175 Greenwich Street, New York, NY 10007