What Comedy And Leadership Have In Common That Makes Them Effective – Part 1

I love a good laugh. To me, it can be refreshing and satisfying, knocking you out of what might be the monotony of a bland environment or the energy drain of stress-inducing circumstances. It can also hit you with a natural high boost while having an already-positive experience.

In any situation, the right laugh can make for a familiar and comforting feeling.

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And the only thing better than a good laugh is sharing it – sharing those refreshing, satisfying sensations and moments simultaneously with others. It can help build connection and reinforce camaraderie by breaking the ice and finding commonality between members of a group or environment.

And aside from helping people connect, it helps them each move forward. I mean, it’s always talked about how small wins and successes can carry you through life and work’s daily challenges and obstacles, and that satisfaction doesn’t only lie in the goal at the end. That there are successes on a daily basis we can take into account to keep us going. Laughter can serve that purpose as well, providing a much-needed — and more frequent — jolt to hold you over between big moments.

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In the professional world, laughter can be a reset to ensure you don’t go too deep down the hole of stress and stagnation. It can shake things up a bit and keep our eyes open with perspective on a situation or issue before we get too serious and stale.

It can revitalize us.

But all of this is only if the laughs exist for the right reasons. (It’s on you to know what’s appropriate or not. Every environment and workplace is different.)

And there’s a deeper connection beyond what laughter can do for a work effort or environment on the surface. Let’s take the jump into the world of laughs here.

If you listen to comedians tell their stories in interviews, books, and acts, the stories they tell show us comedy is more complex than the facade we’re privy to. That complexity exists in both comedy’s foundation and delivery, both before and during its inter-play with its audience’s tastes and preferences.

To further complicate things, the line of what to share for a laugh can be a thin one between wanting to loosen up the mood in the room and possibly offending someone. (Yes, another reminder.)

Like a comedian, a leader can’t deliver their best without knowing what the expectations are of the people around them.

There’s so much behind what makes comedy so impactful and powerful. The laughs are just the tip of the iceberg. What you see is the result of so much internal work, process, and self-reflection.

Just like leadership.

Because comedy is unique to its creator, circumstances, and audience in the moment, and because of the self-assessment, preparation, and evolution that it entails overall, comedy has much more in common with leadership than we might consider at first blush. (And, hey, don’t laugh off the comparison just yet!)

Here are 10 ways comedy and leadership operate with the same undercurrent when it comes to how effective they want to be and what kind of impact they want to make.

Comedy is Setting People at Ease

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At its core, comedy generally is about helping people enjoy the moment and feel at ease, making for an overall better experience. Think about how satisfied and comfortable you feel after a great laugh. You let your guard down a bit, and your perspective of the environment seems to shift for the better.

Leadership works much in the same way. It’s about making sure others feel comfortable in where they find themselves. Whether it’s the workplace or not, leadership allows those being lead to feel at ease with their tools, abilities, and environment while being encouraged, enabled, and empowered by the leaders.

Comedy is Having a Style

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Even the most casual of comedy fans know how personal and unique comedy is to its creator. Every comedian has their own method, delivery, and specialty. If you think of popular comedians, Mitch Hedberg’s style is different from Chris Rock’s style, which is different from George Carlin’s style, which is different from Steven Wright’s style, which is different from Lisa Lampanelli’s style. Each performer has to play to their strengths and determine by which style plays to their strengths.

The same goes for leaders. Think of the leaders in your life and career. Were they all exactly the same, or even similar? They probably had their own unique styles. If you think about the most effective leaders you’ve come across, they might have been just as effective as each other, overall, but came at their tasks, tools, and mission with different approaches.

Usually, all the great leaders are those who see things — details, trends, and patterns — before anyone else.

Comedy Can Be a Defense Mechanism

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Some styles of comedy can be self-deprecating, with the performer not hesitating to make themselves the butt of the joke, while others can be a bit more ruthless, lashing out at other targets, whether in their stories or in their audiences.

You see the same variation across the wide spectrum of leaders, who can exist anywhere between being servant leaders and those who make it all about themselves. The former has the cognizance to put themselves and their vulnerability out there in front of others, while the latter chooses to believe they need to preserve their own reputation and credibility at the expense of those around them.

Comedy is Paying Attention to Detail

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Comedians who get the best laughs tend to offer more details in their stories. Most often, when we laugh, it’s because they’ve captured details in life that we maybe didn’t see or didn’t know how to break down and explain to others. They’re constantly surveying the world around them to see when the next great bit will jump out at them for their act. Their keen eye and powerful observation are necessary tools to create laughs.

Leaders do just the same. They pay attention for nuances others may not see, whether it’s in the work or the personalities playing out. Usually, all the great leaders are ones who see things — details, trends, patterns, and the unspoken — before anyone else. If leadership isn’t paying as much attention to the details as possible, they may be missing opportunities to minimize setbacks and develop great strategies and ideas to move forward.

Comedy is Knowing Your Audience

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This goes back to knowing who you’re speaking to. For instance, a group of nuns will not want to hear raunchy jokes. (Maybe I’m overgeneralizing and stereotyping, but you know where I’m coming from, Sister Florence!) This day in age, when people get easily offended, comedy isn’t – and can’t – be what it used to be. Even before the current societal criticisms ramped up the accountability on insensitivity, comedians needed to know what the audience they were playing to, more or less, wanted to hear.

When it comes to the importance of the audience, leaders need to know who the stakeholders are. The need exists to recognize their people as an collective group while also understanding what the individual members are both seeking and can provide. Like a comedian, a leader can’t deliver their best without knowing what the expectations are of the people around them.

Covered in Part II:

  • Comedy is Gauging Your Audience
  • Comedy is Constant Evolution
  • Comedy is Knowing The Rules
  • Comedy is Dealing With Loneliness
  • Comedy is Self-Awareness