What Does Laughter Have to Do with Great Leadership?
From Lincoln to Gandhi, Einstein to Nancy Pelosi, and Winston Churchill to Barack Obama, great leaders share a trait that is often overlooked – a sense of humour.
I recently interviewed Dr. Teruni Lamberg on my podcast Laugh Long and Prosper. Dr. Lamberg is an associate professor of mathematics education at the University of Nevada. She holds a doctorate in mathematics education from Arizona State University and a Post Doctorate from Vanderbilt University.
Dr. Lamberg has been a college professor for over 17 years.
Dr. Lamberg discovered that humour separates superior leaders from lackluster and/or boring ones! A funny bone! A haha when things are not so funny. A prolific author and speaker, and a leading learning expert, Dr. Teruni Lamberg extensively researched this topic for her seminars and book Leaders Who Lead Successfully. She shares her innovating ideas on leading, motivating, and aligning project teams.
Dr. Lamberg and I talked about humour and leadership. Here are some excerpts from that interview:
Judy: Time and time again, humour has been an overlooked common denominator when looking at great leaders throughout history. Thank you for coming on the show.
Dr. Lamberg: I’m glad to be here. It’s nice to know that you are a humourist as well.
Judy: I knew the power of humour a long time ago. I see it in individuals, comedy clubs and workplaces, but I was really intrigued by your research that confirmed how necessary humour is when it comes to leadership. Some of the examples that you gave were incredible. Can you share them with our listeners?
Dr. Lamberg: It actually happened accidently. I was working on a state wide project with teachers. One day it dawned on me as we were laughing together and bantering back and forth. I remember turning to my colleague and saying, “We know that we are productive when we laugh and when there is playful banter. How do we quantify this?”
I think one of the things with humour is that it puts people at ease. But it has to be natural.
I’ve been to places where people try to be funny but they’re not. When humour comes naturally, it gets people to interact. For example, including humour in a PowerPoint when starting the day. My colleagues played a joke on me. Apparently, I can’t park. I thought I was good at driving (laugh). But they ended up doing a documentary about my parking. Everybody was laughing. With that, we were then able to get into more complex things. Subtly, we were able to join together. When you create humour, you are also creating relationships and a level of comfort. You can’t laugh if you’re not comfortable.
What I found in my leadership research is that an innovative leader – a leader who motivates people – knows how to make people feel comfortable. They know how to create an environment where people feel welcomed to sit at the table and discuss their ideas.
Judy: When you are dealing with really complex issues, you need people to sit back, relax and take a deep breath. Laughter has that effect.
Dr. Lamberg: Yes, I actually interviewed a lot of famous researchers. How do ordinary people do extraordinary things in their work with their teams? Their teams actually changed things nationally and internationally in terms of research. One researcher from UCLA mentioned that they would have a retreat with all the graduating students and faculty members and they would cook together. As they cooked together, they were laughing and joking. As this was taking place, they were also brainstorming because they were relaxed. They were creating innovative connections. I was wondering how to generate innovative ideas and how do you do that in teams?
Judy: Indeed. Not only is laughter bonding but it’s contagious and it helps us cut through so many social barriers when we laugh with someone.
Dr. Lamberg: Yes, if you walk into a room and nobody is laughing and it looks really tense, chances are you’re going to have a harder time getting things done. Of course, there are times when you have to focus.
Humour is generated when there are relationships between people. You’re not going to tease somebody or crack a joke if you don’t feel comfortable with that person.
Whether you’re running a meeting or putting a team together, you really should think about what it takes to create an environment that makes people feel comfortable.
I notice, Judy, that you do a lot of work with mindfulness. Like mindfulness, humour helps you catch your breath. Can you tell me a little bit about mindfulness? I think it’s interesting to connect humour with that.
Judy: Well, what I always say to my audiences is, “When we laugh, we relax. When we relax, we learn.”
I teach stand-up comedy. I notice that a lot of new students panic when they first start the course. Their ‘fight or flight’ response naturally forces their brain to go into ‘survival mode’ or, in other words, their left logical brain. I need them to get to their right-brain, bright, creative side to make connections between various random subjects and then find the funny. So, I found that by doing improv along with mindfulness and meditation exercises, those students were more relaxed afterwards and thus, more open to create.
Dr. Lamberg, I noticed in your leadership studies that humour came up over and over again.
It doesn’t surprise me that whether it’s on the stage or in the boardroom, humour is a wonderful leadership tool that quite frankly, I don’t think we use enough.
Dr. Lamberg: You made a really interesting point. In comedy, you try to make connections between different ideas. That’s really what creativity is all about- the ability to see patterns and make connections. Sometimes those connections happen when you are in a state of flow and your brain is relaxed. It allows you to think outside the box. As opposed to when you are trying to force yourself to think.
Also, when you have a group of people together, not everybody feels the same level of power.
You’re a professor and someone else thinks, well I have don’t have a PhD so I don’t have something to say. But I think it’s about just getting people comfortable and developing that relationship. I think that humour allows everyone to put themselves on a similar level where they can share their stories. A sense of humour allows us to be more human.
Judy: It’s funny that you talk about taking away those levels of power.
On one of my previous podcasts, I was interviewing a Danish friend about a tradition in Denmark called hygge. Part of hygge (which roughly translates to the word ‘cosiness’) is a sense of community. The average Dane belongs to three associations. Those gatherings allow people of various occupations, ages, gender, experience to play a game and/or engage on the same level. People discover what they have in common. As a result, they get an opportunity to think freely and collaborate.
Dr. Lamberg: Everybody has something of value to contribute. Everybody in the room has life experiences, work experiences or just different perspectives. They are able to think outside the box because they are not clouded by some particular lens.
My research showed that the leaders who were really successful talked about being able to take in different voices and opinions. Sometimes, during informal gatherings (like the cooking class or a coffee break), someone might suddenly say, ‘Oh that’s a good idea. I need to go back and write that down’.
Humour creates relationships and creates the environment to be comfortable. If you’re comfortable, then you are relaxed and you have a greater chance for deeper thinking and making connections between ideas.
Judy: I was doing a virtual presentation for a group last month and they were giving out leadership awards. The awards weren’t based on seniority or years served but they were strictly based on good ideas. If you brought a good idea to the table (e.g., Frank from IT showed us a neat little trick on our computers to save time) then Frank got an award.
Good ideas are good ideas no matter who they come from.
Dr. Lamberg: Humour comes with building a community – an identity for a company. It makes people feel like they are part of the group. Humour is the glue that holds people together.
Judy: Humour is part of our caveman brain. We want to belong to the clan. Humour is a way of showing our open hand. “Look, I don’t have any weapons. I’m making a joke about myself. I’m showing my vulnerability. I’m not going to hurt you. Let’s work together.”
I’ve always believed that humour is a sign of leadership.
When a problem or a crisis arises, everybody else in the group freaks out but it’s the true leader who can find hope, happiness or laughter to get their team through those dark times. They keep moving forward.
Dr. Lamberg: Think of the flip side to that. At the end of a long hard day, petty things become more important. Humour humanizes the situation.
We need humour, especially now. It brings joy no matter what you’re doing.
Judy: Dr. Lamberg, before I let you go, what were some of the other qualities of good leadership that you found in your studies?
Dr. Lamberg: Passion, aligning actions with higher purpose (in other words, walking the talk), integrity, and the ability to motivate others or to communicate an idea by painting a picture or using humour.
I think in order to use humour, you really have to observe what is going on in the room. In fact, the times that I laugh the most are when someone notices the humour in everyday things. I think that is much harder to pull off.
Judy: I love observational humour. It’s like problem solving. It’s looking at the same situation as everybody else and finding the solution – finding the connection between A and B with a punchline. Dr. Lamberg, thank you for joining me. It’s been my absolute pleasure.
Dr. Lamberg: Thank you, Judy.
Judy: If you would like to reach Dr. Lamberg, here is her contact info.
Website: Optimized Learning
Don’t be shy. You can check out my Laugh Long and Prosper podcast on Spotify or Soundcloud.
Laugh Long and Prosper is shelf help with a smile, stressbusters with a smirk, and information with a wink wink. You get the point. On Mondays, I host the podcast Just Another Mindful Monday. The full podcast interview with Dr. Lamberg aired Monday April 5th 2021 and is available here.
Until next time folks,
Jim Ducharme, my courageous friend, recently joined me on my weekly podcast.
Jim has been diagnosed with a brain tumour. He isn’t sure how much time he has left, so he asked me to help him share his message about life, hope, purpose and love.
We always said we would do a podcast together. I’m so sad that this is it. As a lot of us face the great ‘unknown’ with Covid, Jim KNOWS what his fate it. The interview is part of his message.
Jim is also an accomplished writer. I share one of his stories below.
Please send love, good vibes and prayers Jim’s way.
Judy: Hi there, I’m Judy Croon. Welcome to another episode of Laugh Long and Prosper.
This is going to be a different episode.
Some difficult situations (for example, Covid, our recent city shutdown, unemployment, etc.) really test our strengths and our touchstones, like humour and gratitude. I think this show will explain itself.
My guest today is my good friend, Jim Ducharme. Jim and I go way back -back to radio days on the Mix when I was co-hosting the morning show and Jim was the mastermind producer behind the scenes. Jim seemed like a grouchy individual but he actually has a great sense of humour.
Jim has that self-deprecating humour that I love so much in other people, especially when times are stressful. Especially when times are low.
If you were going to make a joke about Jim, Jim would make it about himself first.
When I was at the Mix, Jim not only helped me build my website but he showed me how to run it myself probably so I wouldn’t bother him every two minutes. However, he knew how important it was to learn how to handle your own social media and he wanted to share that knowledge with me. I will forever be grateful to Jim for that.
While at the station, I created a fundraiser called Laughlines for breast cancer research.
Jim was the first person to volunteer. He said he would handle the social media for the event.
Over six years and with the help of many individuals, including Jim, we raised over $650,000 for breast cancer research.
Throughout the years, Jim’s knowledge and friendship have been invaluable.
Jim: Please don’t give me too much credit. Learning is great but teaching is better. Certainly, the situation that I’m in could be a lot better but do you want me to talk about this now?
Judy: Absolutely. It’s your show my friend. We always wanted to do a podcast together. I’m only sorry that this is the reason that we are doing it today. For people out there who are saying, “I can’t handle Covid. I can’t handle not being able to pay my bills! “I say, please listen to Jim’s story. This will give you strength. This will give you perspective.
Jim: Well, I will keep it short then. I hope that everyone had a great Christmas. My biggest concern is that you remember it because I don’t. I remember very little of it. Thanks to my ex-wife, the police came by the house and realized that there was a problem and took me to the hospital. I spent nearly a month in there over Christmas- missing Christmas day with my daughter. I have a brain tumour.
It is probably the worst kind of cancer that is out there and it decided to make a home in my head. I wouldn’t have minded if it had decided to take a basement room but it didn’t. It decided to move into the penthouse and that’s the worse damn place that it can go.
Time is irrelevant. When you’re sick like I am right now, time is extremely irrelevant and so is your ground. The worst part of this disease up until now, aside from the hammering that goes on in my head, is that I feel like I’m walking on very mushy sand. It’s unbalanced on either side of me.
Yesterday, I took a tumble down the stairs. There are literally claw marks in the paint from where I grabbed the ledge, so I was obviously under the impression at the time that it was a bad, bad thing.
This morning, I needed to walk my daughter back to her mother’s house and I had my walker. I could only get her so far so I stood on the top of the street and made sure that she got into her mother’s house okay. But it was another moment where I wanted to punch something.
It’s funny- maybe because someone said to me yesterday, “You made this investment Jim, (without knowing it) by being a decent human being. Now it’s coming back to pay off and it’s wonderful. “(I think what Jim’s friend meant here was that because Jim is a good guy- many people are rallying to help him.)
My father did a lot of good for the community. There were hundreds and hundreds of people at his funeral but he didn’t see them.
I don’t plan on having any big kind of funeral or anything. My friend and I have discussed what my final wishes are and she’s prepared to take care of them.
I don’t want to freak anybody else out but my actual plan is to have my ashes scattered in small bits in sugar containers in restaurants so that I can always be with you.
Jim: Look, I’ve had my moments. I knew that there were going to be hard moments.
Yesterday was a hard day but having said that, I’m almost sixty years-old. Am I going to complain about ten to twenty years? Do I want to sit here and feel sorry for myself?
Am I going to feel worse for myself than a friend who has known me for 30-40 years, who’s literally losing it because what is happening to me? How can I feel worse about it? They will have time when they have to deal with it. Me? I’m going to have a few bad weeks and then everything is going to go mushy dark.
Then I have that wonderful option if I want to haunt the crap out of people who have been jerks to me and I’m perfectly capable if I have to.
The most important thing in this situation is the conversation that we are having right here. Your friends are everything. My uncle was not a very nice man. He was a very stingy man and he was a rich man and he didn’t have a very good end because of that.
Judy: First of all, we don’t have a crystal ball. I know that we wish for a miracle. Do you know approximately how much time you have and what do you want to do with that time?
Jim: I have an idea what my time is. When doctors give you averages about stuff like that -they give you statistics. But it’s not about the time. Time is a bag and it matters what you stuff into it.
Sure, I could have but if I had spent my entire life saying I’ll never get cancer, I’ll never get cancer and certainly not in the brain, that wouldn’t have protected me from this.
We were in a darkened hospital room and the nurse looked me in the eye and said, “You didn’t do this. You didn’t put this there. Nothing you did, did this.”
By the way, God bless nurses and nurse practitioners. If you don’t think that they are saving our asses every damn day and putting their own at risk, then you are completely out of it.
They don’t have enough doctors to be in there to talk to you about this stuff.
It was the nurses that stepped up when they could for the most part.
If you would like to listen to the rest of Jim’s interview, again you can click on the following Jim’s interview
During the interview, I shared one of Jim’s stories. I think it’s beautiful.
A great blue heron swoops in a slow arc just above the water and then silently lands on the dock in front of me. The bird pays little attention and goes straight to work fishing. Just hours earlier, as I floated with my daughter on the lake, a family of ducks swam right by us with nary a worry. For years I’ve been coming to my best friend’s cottage in Quebec with the hope of renewal, and this is the first year I’ve come here happy and allowed myself to relax — it’s beautiful. Most writers dream of a secluded lakefront cottage to create their masterpiece, and most of us end up writing it in a Starbucks. Yes, I know I’m lucky.
In this setting, just an hour north of Ottawa, my daily waypoints consist of swims in clean lake water, relaxing conversation, and a lot of summer fun with my ten-year-old daughter. Bird calls instead of traffic sounds and a sky full of stars instead of street lights. When you consider the kind of monotony most of us deal with day in day out, you can understand why people go to the trouble and expense to purchase and maintain a cottage. I’m blessed to have a friend who welcomes myself and my daughter here one week each summer.
A beautiful relaxed existence, the kind of therapeutic oasis that should be able to set anyone back on the tracks, and yet, this is the first time I’ve really and truly relaxed and enjoyed myself here in years. The very first day here, my ten-year-old child’s joyful laughter echoed around the gentle hills as we floated and played in the lake. She had a raft, and at one point, she suggested we recreate the iconic final scene from the movie Titanic.
“Oh, how do we do that?” I asked.
“You lift me on the raft, and then you sink to the bottom of the lake,” she replied.
I only managed to sink halfway, but it was a pretty epic romantic scene — a moment I couldn’t have shared with her just a year ago. I couldn’t have had that special moment, that perfect moment, because I felt like a cat tossed into a black sack – panicking, alone, terrified of what might happen next.
As I sit here by a glacial surrounded by pine covered granite hills, it’s a little like reaching an emotional higher ground, where you have a better perspective on your journey and the experiences, good and bad that have been a part of that journey.
I know depression, and I know trauma. Both have been a part of my adventure and at times, my only companions on long nights.
When the 13-year marriage to the only love of my life ended, my world crumbled. The ensuing custody battle over my young daughter almost destroyed me and sent me into three years of dark, desperate depression and anxiety. The only reason I found for going on was my ten-year-old warrior princess — she never lost faith in her daddy — even when he had.
Jim doesn’t have a lot of wishes right now. He is obviously concerned the most about his daughter. One of his internet friends was kind enough to set up a GoFundMe page. As stated on the page, ‘Unfortunately, Jim’s expenses are piling up and worrying about bills at a time like this is something nobody should have to go through. So for that reason, we’re putting together this GoFundMe to help ease the burden and give Jim as much quality time with his family and friends as possible.’
Aside from Jim’s daughter, he is very concerned about getting a message out to the nurses at Princess Margaret Hospital and Toronto Western Hospital. I know he has purchased coffee and donuts for them multiple times but he is at a loss how to thank each and every one of them for what they have done. Understandably, Jim’s brain isn’t as sharp as it used to be so he doesn’t remember names. He’s sad that he can’t thank them enough. Aside from his daughter, they are his warrior princesses and princes right now. If you see a nurse or frontline worker, please thank them on Jim’s behalf.
Thank you, Jim, for reminding us what is truly important in life; friends, family, love and laughter and NOW.
Laugh Long and Prosper my dear friend.
I don’t know what was scarier in 2020…Donald Trump or Covid.
Certainly, both of them have had me cowering in my house for a few months at the beginning of the year.
But then I felt inspired by Joe Biden: the little engine that could.
Slowly but surely, his campaign started to gain traction throughout the year and lo and behold, he and Kamala Harris won the US Election.
I felt inspired by Joe Biden for many reasons. His old-school talk about having ‘steel in your spine’ made me want to strike a Rosie the Riveter pose and start saving kittens out of trees.
I was also inspired by ‘The Joe Biden Jog’. You know the jog -the five or six little steps that Joe does just as he’s about to take the podium. I now do the ‘Joe Biden Jog’ myself whenever I’m on one of my slow daily walks and I think someone might be looking.
As 2020 progressed, I started to get mad at 2020. To hell with you, 2020.
As Covid raged on, I metamorphized from coward to full- blown ‘Snakes on a Plane’ Samuel Jackson. “That mother ##%$^^&ing 2020 is not going to get the best of me.”
I joined millions of humans around the world as we adapted to the ‘new normal’ by masking up, Zooming, home schooling, isolating, sanitizing and maintaining a responsible six-foot distance from others. That’s right, Winston Churchill would have been proud of us! Okay, maybe we weren’t fighting in the streets with sticks and brooms but, when it comes to watching TV, no other generation can hold a candle to us. Fourteen hours of binge-watching The Crown? Child’s play. Not even a blink or a bathroom break. Hulu- come at me.
I don’t know about you, but I can watch the most obscure, fragmented channel for days. Have you seen ‘Estonia’s Next Baking Star’ on the Umlaut Network? For a monthly subscription of only $6.99, I can assure you that it’s a bargain at twice the price.
Of course, Christmas 2020 was different because of Covid. It was smaller and quieter. I notice that most of my Christmas gifts were chocolates, pajamas and books. Otherwise known as ‘Covid Gear’ or the 92-year-old Grandmother Starter Kit. Either way, I don’t mind! Bring on the comfort and cosiness.
I stayed with my dad this Christmas. We had a great time catching up. One minor observation- could the TV be any louder?
I’m sure even the neighbours know that the mystery on Oak Island is that there isn’t any treasure.
All joking aside, I will take the good lessons from 2020 and keep moving forward.
Family, friends, charity, gratitude and ‘Murder She Wrote’ are just some of the touchstones that have helped me to, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’- as Winston Churchill would say.
Hang in there folks, it’s going to get better. We just have to be patient.
Laugh Long and Prosper.
By the way, in case you missed the most recent episodes of my podcast ‘Laugh Long and Prosper’ -you can check them out here.
Laugh Long and Prosper: Psychic Friday – Friday January 1, 2021- Predictions for the year 2021 with Psychic Nikki
Laugh Long and Prosper -Monday Dec 21 2020 Just Another Mindful Monday with Meditation Coach Cara Coulson Part Two
Laugh Long and Prosper – Monday Dec 7 2020 – Just Another Mindful Monday with Meditation Coach Cara Coulson Part One