Laughing at Ourselves as a Leadership "Tolerance" Strategy

When was the last time you laughed, I mean, really you?  I attended an important women's leadership conference presented today by the San Gabriel Valley YWCA:  "Life and Leadership in a Diverse and Changing World."  What a wonderful day it was.

While I was there, I enjoyed a session called, "Women of Power:  Being a Leader in a Diverse World," presented by Leah Lewis, MSA and Geraldine Perri, Ph.D.  It was a knock-your-socks off workshop.  If you ever get a chance to hear either of these women speak about leadership in organizations of workers or volunteers, grab it.  I know I will.  They both employed humor with warmth during their presentations.  Dr. Perri even talked about high achievers who know how to lighten up and not take themselves too sersiously--as a strategy for effective (as opposed to efficient) leadership.  This resonated with me. 

It's not about being silly, though a good balance of seriousness and playfulness can go a long way if it fits with your personal style.  The notion of "serious play" is a cornerstone of this blog, after all.  Beyond that, laughing at ourselves as leaders (whether in business or in our communities, even in our families) is really about connecting with others, whatever the setting.  A leader who takes her work very seriously, yet can lighten up and laugh at her mistakes, and help others to laugh at theirs, is perceived as a real human being in the eyes of others.  Connecting with people in meaningful or even lighthearted ways is a critical key to accomplishing important things effectively.  Moreover, this leader wisely models understanding and acceptance in an earthy way that goes far beyond slogans and posters about tolerance in the workplace. 

In our personal development, even in our lives of contemplation, humor can also play an important role.  It's easy in the quiet hours when we reflect on where we are and where we're going to get all too serious about the things we've done or been unable to accomplish.  It's easy to get down on ourselves about our mistakes, when we let down the people we care about the most, when we aren't all we hope to be.  You know, visions are goals.  We don't make it to every goal every day.  The important thing is that we're always on our way, learning, trying, getting better and better.  The great thing about goals, wherever we find ourselves, is that we get to start over every day.   

"Believing in ourselves" means believing even when we fall short.  It means having just enough faith to try again tomorrow.  We can choose to tell ourselves we really messed up, and "keep telling ourselves all night long," as Ms. Lewis noted.  Or we can say, Yep, I was really a goofball.  What was I thinking? and have smile or a good laugh at our arrogance or shortsightedness, or the silly way we walked out of the restroom with the paper toilet-seat-cover hanging out from back of our trousers.  Make amends if you need to, sincerely tell someone you're sorry.  And if laughter is the only appropriate response, have a great laugh at you.  It will do your heart and the hearts of others a lot of good.

Julia Child was a successful woman of her time who was loved by so many because of her gifts, including her ability to laugh at her mistakes, to fix them, perhaps imperfectly, and move on.  Her motto:  "And above all else...have a good time!"