Kevin Cashman (Leadership From the Inside Out, 2008) surprised me. Tucked deep inside his seminal work on leadership, he tackled a topic I have rarely heard anyone else raise. Quoting Daniel Pink, he writes: “Play is emerging from the shadows of frivolousness and assuming a place in the spotlight….” (p.189)
Leadership is a serious matter, but we can take it too seriously. We can easily over-rate our own significance or the importance of the project at hand. For a season of my own life I embraced a leadership goal to develop gravitas; an authority that comes with intensity and seriousness. I would have benefited if somebody had written this blog for me then.
I think about Ron Hewitt. He was tall, large, and loud. He laughed hard, hugged people tightly, and carried crowds into fits of giggles and guffaws. He loved widely and was widely loved. And he brought energy into every room that he entered, even when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Some people thought that Ron’s humor (and God’s answer to prayer) helped his short-term healing. He was one of 42 men diagnosed with the same disease, at the same time, at the same hospital clinic. Forty-one of them passed away within 12 months. Ron lived a further 6 years. But the gift of his humor should not really be measured in months or years, but leadership and influence.
Looking back at Ron’s life, and reading Cashman’s comments, has made me pause and ponder.
Intensity drains; levity rejuvenates. Solemnity depresses; laughter lightens. Gravitas makes a helpful side-dish, but not a great meal. Teams (even marriages and families) that are constantly serious, lose their energy. When we lack humor and lightness with each other, when everything is altogether too formal, leadership suffers.
There are, of course, a great many things to take seriously; mission, strategy, contracts, and threats. But if Cashman is correct, then humor and leadership might be a great topic for deeper consideration (and plenty of application).
We may achieve far more (in most instances) with a smile than a scold. How might you inject more humor and warmth into your leadership today?
David Timms is Dean of the School of Christian Leadership at William Jessup University