By the end of the first day in the course, I had the whole class laughing.
“You’re all having fun? That’s great! When you’re all having a good time, I can work you a lot harder.”
The laughter stopped. Everyone looked at me as if I’d just kicked their dog.
Students aren’t really a hostile audience. They want their professor to be likable. But it’s one thing to do stand-up comedy in front of a class, and quite another to have students enjoy overcoming the adversities that are built into a course.
When the going gets tough, the tough laugh. The harder the going, the more important that is. Laughter works in the classroom – if you’ve just given your all on a class assignment, then discover that you were completely off track and not even close to a good answer, what else can you do? Cry and crawl out onto the nearest window ledge? Much better to just laugh at it, learn from it, and go on. If you laugh, you get another chance. If you jump, well, that’s pretty much the end of it.
Humor – self-deprecating and without malice – adds buoyancy to the soul, making it damn near unsinkable.
In my experience, whether at karate gasshuku, a football practice, or a business meeting, you’ll find that the best, truest leaders, will be the ones who start the laughing. It’ll be an easy, light joke – not the clown guffaw – that gets everyone looking up, doing better, and most important, persevering.
When Lou Gerstner was CEO at IBM, it seemed the every executive meeting started with a joke, just enough to loosen up the room and finished with a laugh. I can assure you that nobody has ever mistaken Mr. Gerstner for a stand-up comedian, but he knew the value of humor and used it.
Shakespeare wrote that life is a comedy to those who laugh and a tragedy to those who cry. I would add that tragedy sucks. We get enough of it anyway, so there’s no good reason to go looking for more.
Sorrow sinks, but humor floats like bubbles in champagne. Go ahead, laugh, and see if you can float over your adversities. Even if your bubble pops, at least you’ll have had a better time.