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Leading with Laughter

I was on an early morning flight from JFK to LAX, trying to catch up on my reading, while most passengers snoozed. Suddenly there was a burst of laughter coming from the window seat one row ahead. I could only see a slice of the occupant’s profile, but whatever he watched on the seatback screen tickled his funnybone. He laughed, almost guiltily, trying not to wake the sleepers around him, but occasionally, startling himself by the looks of it, he laughed right out loud. I smiled to hear him, laughter being one of those natural impulses that we can share fully without any diminishment of the original source of supply.

It’s not such a common thing, an adult laughing out loud over and over. Apparently babies laugh hundreds of times a day, and teens in the double digits, but the rest of us, well, sadly, on average we’re down to just a few here and there. Pity, isn’t it, when it’s so good for us? The physiological impacts include salutary effects on blood pressure and heart rate, as well as all kinds of enzymatic changes at the cellular level that support health, stress reduction, relaxation.

Back to my in-flight reading, an article on worker engagement by Tony Schwartz in the Harvard Business Review. It cited a 2007 survey which found that roughly 40% of 9,000 workers worldwide were “disenchanted or disengaged”. I figure it has to be worse now, given that fewer people are covering more work than ever and virtually everyone’s more worried about the future –- their future, their kids’ future, the planet’s future.

Schwartz’s work on engagement suggests that it needs to be modeled at the top. He recommends that executives demonstrate such things as a modicum of balance in their own lives, a culture of truth-telling, and a variety of positive rituals to ensure a more supportive and productive work environment.

Have you ever had a happy boss? Didn’t it make a difference in your day? Years of observation suggest that it’s really difficult to be happier at work than your boss happens to be. Unhappy executives can end up stifling employees’ natural creativity, initiative-taking, and strategic thinking along with their smiles. What a shame!

The old line says, “Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone.” Sounds like a surefire match for engagement vs. disengagement. Leaders need to know how to show that it’s possible and desirable to laugh and be happy at work — and since they also need to be truthful, they have to find fun and satisfaction themselves. What makes you laugh, and can you find ways to share that positive spirit with your co-workers?

Onward and upward,


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6 thoughts on “Leading with Laughter

  1. Brings a smile to my face to just read your entry on a happy boss. Also, wanted to let you know tht I finally visited your blog. Great!!!! Congrats.

  2. Thanks, Tena — You have loads of experience making a difference in someone’s day — and you just did in mine!

  3. Great piece Liz! As a leader I think it’s incredibly important to model both enjoyment and balance at work. No one wants to come in to a miserable, stressful environment every day. I truly believe I work best when I’m happy and I know others do too. We should all laugh a little more…

  4. Thanks, Katy! Laughter can be a relief, a release, and a pleasure. Might as well be happy…

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