What Comedy And Leadership Have In Common That Makes Them Effective – Part 2

Covered In Part 1

  • Comedy is Setting People at Ease
  • Comedy is Having a Style
  • Comedy Can Be a Defense Mechanism
  • Comedy is Paying Attention to Detail
  • Comedy is Knowing Your Audience

Comedy is Gauging Your Audience

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Aside from considering in advance what the audience needs or would like to see and hear, comedians need to understand how their material is working out in the moment as they deliver it. Based on how an audience is reacting, it works against their own self-interest if a they wait until the end of the act to make adjustments or pick up their energy. In each moment, they need to keep in mind what the audience is taking away from their act, reading the laughs and energy, in order to shift accordingly to (hopefully) close on a high note.

Leaders also need to read the room, their audience — their followers and other stakeholders. Leaders should be doing more listening than speaking, in order to gauge what the beliefs, perceptions, and opinions are in the room. They can always adjust accordingly in the moment if they pay attention to how their team is reacting. Cues from the audience can run the gamut from the obvious to the subtle. (Hopefully, the leader has established an environment where reactions, suggestions, and opinions are welcome. The more the leader sets the stage for openness, the more there can be for them to read.)

If a leader is truly open to learning about their environment, it should start with their team — those who carry out the work to be done. Gauging what that audience needs – truly needs – can dictate either subsequent success or failure.

The mental aspect of any job is the foundation and core needed before anything technical or tool-related work can take place and be effective.

The mental aspect of any job is the foundation and core needed before anything technical or tool-related work can take place and be effective.

Comedy is Constant Evolution

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Aside from anticipating what the audience needs, and then gauging it in the moment, the comedian needs to assess their work after it’s been completed. Any comedian will probably tell you their career has been, and continues to be, a game of trial-and-error and constant adjustment in order to get their bits and set just right. It can be a grueling journey of lessons. But those lessons are valuable, so it’d be prudent to take stock of what worked and what didn’t so they can adjust their act accordingly. It’s a constant game of learning, assessment, and reassessment.

In the journey of leadership, like any path of learning, is also a game of adjustments. Leaders need to understand their abilities, their impact, and their skills. Leadership is a game of constant fluidity, based on a myriad of different factors. Yes, some adjustments can be made in the moment (see Comedy is Gauging Your Audience), but, in hindsight, from day to day and issue to issue, leaders also need to reflect on what worked and what didn’t after the work is completed. That way, they don’t repeat the same mistakes or wait until the wrong results are cemented and irreversible to try to assess and adjust. Simultaneously, they can also continue to build off the things that did work. In looking back at the good and the bad, after they’ve delivered their work, they can assess a situation in its entirety. 

Comedy is Knowing The Rules

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Here’s some pretty common knowledge: Comedians can push the envelope. And that varies from comedian to comedian, with some choosing to be effective in their comedy without even approaching the line, while others court and welcome controversy with their indiscretions by flirting with, toeing, or crossing it. They need to make a conscious decision on what it is they’re going to do about the line and how many buttons they’re willing to push in the audience to get the reaction they desire. It’s a game of risk and reward.

Leaders also need to determine how their expectations are going to move all their stakeholders beyond the status quo. They need to determine when to take people out of their comfort zone. And just like the comedian, leaders need to consider just how far they want to take others into that zone of discomfort without pushing them too far. Comedians don’t want to turn off their audience completely, while leaders don’t want their followers to burn out from constant challenges.

Comedy is A Touch Of Loneliness

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It’s amazing how many comedians share their stories of battling depression, anxiety, and/or loneliness. The same ability that allows them to see the world through a different lens than others — a super power for their comedic commentary — can also be debilitating if it’s always on. Aside from that perspective and third eye of observation, just the act of putting yourself out there in front of others can be paralyzing and stressful. It’s literally about getting up on stage and combating the fear that things won’t work out. Think about how it feels to pour everything you have into what you show others, becoming the focus of an audience and its judgement, with a spotlight literally on you for all to see. It can nerve-wracking and isolating.

Leadership has its own considerations when it comes to loneliness. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown – Shakespeare, Henry IV. Leaders may go about their work isolated, feeling as though the decisions and weight of action, direction, and mission rest solely and squarely with them. Sometimes, they feel as if they need to carry that persona and façade of sheer confidence and control, while all the while feeling uncertainty and vulnerability inside.

Comedy is Self-Awareness

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Comedians know where they truly stand. That honesty about themselves is what empowers their ability to speak frankly about what they see in life, including what they see in and about themselves. They see what is and don’t try to sugar-coat it. A good number of comedians don’t feel the need to dress up their status above its reality. That’s what gives them power – the ability to be completely honest and vulnerable. And that’s what makes the most relatable comedians the best comedians: They know and admit their place more than most people would care to admit about themselves, and those others recognize and can relate to it.

Just because someone does something completely different than you…doesn’t mean there aren’t best practices in their methods you can take away to adjust and improve your own work.

The best leaders are nothing without a great dose of self-awareness. They need to know where they stand in their strengths and weaknesses, abilities and blind spots in order to speak from the truth and be authentic. There should be no hiding. There should be no ongoing facade. They’re not invincible. They can’t make it or succeed alone. They don’t get high on their power, performing at some lofty, overextended level. Instead, they set a genuine tone and understanding for others, who then see them as more authentic. They know where they stand, they’re honest about it, and they work from there. 

In the end, the strongest common thread between comedy and leadership is that last piece — self-awareness.

It’s studying oneself and the audience and balancing the steps that need to be taken to get to the best outcome.

Yes, comedy and leadership are not identical realms, but there are general ideas and approaches that carry both disciplines, allowing them to function – or not – in their own arenas.

Generally, the comedian and leader are both outspoken, sharing their ideas with others, hoping to influence others, aiming to get better as they go, and set on sending out a ripple effect of impact throughout their audience.

And this comparison may not seem like a natural connection to make for most people. We’re all so different in our views and perspectives. Maybe some people can’t see it. Hell, people even have different appreciations for laughing. For some, it’s a luxury that comes along sparingly. For others, it’s a daily requirement. But, although we may vary in that belief, these lessons can be used by anyone, even if the source of the lesson is not everyone’s cup of tea. 

Just because someone does something completely different than you, like working in a different industry, doesn’t mean there aren’t best practices in their methods you can take away to adjust and improve your own work. There are general ideas that are transferable across work, industries, and professions. The mental approach is what can transfer the easiest, and it’s also the most powerful. The mental aspect of any job is the foundation and core needed before anything technical or tool-related work can take place and be effective.

We can all learn from each other and our approaches to our work. The link between comedians and leaders is just another example.

The lessons are there for the taking.