I love laughing. I don’t laugh enough unfortunately, as I am often sitting alone in a hotel room or in an airport lounge – boring places. I do try, however, even if it is offering a faint chuckle on account of an unusual event or allowing the makings of a smile produced by an observable moment of intimacy as a mother hugs a son goodbye or as a result of a little girl clinging to her father’s hand in a rather busy environment (you see, when you a still very little and rather tiny, the world is a very frightening place – all you see are knees and knees are not particularly beautiful)!
The ability to laugh, enjoy humour and connect emotionally commences when you are a baby. A few weeks into life, a mother’s caress or a father’s “stupid” action of pulling faces causes a faint smile to appear in a little one’s mouth, later developing to a chuckle and subsequently laughter as the child starts expressing feelings generated from emotional connectivity. Here’s the point though – emotions offered generate emotional response in others. Laughter, in particular, demonstrates the contagious nature of all emotion. Hearing laughter, we automatically smile or laugh too, creating a spontaneous reaction that sweeps through a team or a family. Everyone seems to enjoy the moment. Daniel Goleman, in his book “Primal Leadership”, notes that “smiles and laughter cement alliances and provide trustworthy signs of friendliness”. Smiles seem to have an irresistible power to make others smile in return.
Leaders play a pivotal role in creating and sustaining the emotional environment in the workplace. They talk the most and what they say is listened to very carefully. The leader’s way of seeing things has special weight as they “manage meaning” for the group, offering a way to interpret and so react emotionally to a given situation. If emotionally intelligent, they will lead with appropriate compassion and empathy to any given context and so put team members “at rest”. The greater a leader’s skill at transmitting emotions, the more forcefully the emotions will spread. Of course, if the leader is genuine and imbued with a touch of humour within his or her leadership skill-set, the “positive mood” of the office will be noticeably affected. This may help drive business success for the company.
In a number of studies conducted by numerous researchers (viz. Fabio Sala, David C McClelland and Lyle Spencer separately), top leaders seemed to use three times more humorous comments than average leaders. Effective leadership, then, uses humour appropriately, even in emotionally charged contexts, to send positive messages to shift the underlying emotional tone of the interaction. These leaders are aware of their potential emotional influence over employees and attempt therefore to create an environment that is emotional stable, forward-looking and vision-inspiring, often using humour to assist in this process. The contagious nature of humour and good intent spreads rapidly, moulding teams and giving them opportunity and comfort to focus on corporate goals. These teams (in the research results) seem to be more successful than teams in toxic environments or teams under negative or distant leadership.
Laughter is the best medicine within the workplace. A genuine smile from a sincere leader, laughter generated by a leader of integrity and humour used by an empathic leader in everyday conversation with fellow managers and employees create healthy work environments and “togetherness” around issues of importance. These workplaces are usually highly successful.