3 Ways Humble Leaders Keep Their Egos in Check

3 Ways Humble Leaders Keep Their Egos in Check

Feedback is the breakfast of champions.

That’s a statement that author Ken Blanchard explains in sports terms. “Can you imagine,” asks Blanchard, “training for the Olympics with no one telling you how fast you ran or how high you jumped?”

The leadership application, of course, is that leaders need to be open to feedback. If we don’t know what we’re doing wrong, or what’s going wrong, we can’t fix it. This makes sense intellectually, but in reality, feedback can go down like a bowl of cold, lumpy oatmeal.

Today’s leaders face increasingly complex problems. No one person can have all of the answers. That’s why leaders of the 21st century must have the humility to encourage feedback. To step back and create space for others to show you your blind spots and help you make improvements that count.

Harvard Business Review contributors John Dame and Jeffrey Gedmin called this intellectual humility. “Without humility,” the authors argue, “you’re not able to learn.” Here are three principles of humility that will help put you in a feedback frame of mind:

1. Know what you don’t know. 

The higher you climb up the proverbial corporate ladder, the greater the temptation it is to believe that you are the smartest person in the room. But deep down, you know that you don’t have all of the answers. You may not even have all of the questions. Know when to defer and be open to learning from others.

2. Resist falling for your own publicity. 

Part of the leadership role is to maintain a positive outlook. Your confidence boosts that of your team and your customers. While it’s important to have a positive outlook, it’s just as important to correctly assess reality. Keep your spirits high, but your judgment at an even keel.

3. Never underestimate the competition. 

No matter how smart you are, how many hours you are willing to put in, or how creative you get, do not allow a residue of hubris to set into your culture. There is always competition for your customer’s attention.

The first task of any leader is to assess reality correctly. You can’t do that without having the feedback you need to make the necessary adjustments. Open yourself to feedback by having the humility to know your own limits, keep your ego in check, and resist the false comfort of complacency.

Question: What specific actions are you taking to remain humble as a leader?

Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!

8 Books that Deepen Our Understanding of Race and Racism in America

8 Books that Deepen Our Understanding of Race and Racism in America

This year has given Americans the opportunity to face some ugly truths about our country. The torch that was lit when George Floyd was murdered on Memorial Day continues to burn day and night. Under that light, American citizens are daring to step out of the protection of their houses and step into the public square to debate issues such as freedom, patriotism, policing, and racism. Young adults are leading the charge in the streets and on social media to raise awareness that we can no longer neglect the past or remain willfully ignorant of the severity and scope of our country’s racial disparity. Yet, many of us lack the words to articulate our current turmoil or find the path forward.

In an effort to deepen our understanding of race and racism in America, we’re turning to authors to shed light on how we got to where we are, how to have civil discourse about inflammatory topics, and steps that we can take individually and collectively to heal. Here are eight books written by academics, historians and activists that we are reading.


1. The People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

What it’s about: This classic national bestseller chronicles American history from the bottom up, throwing out the official narrative taught in schools—with its emphasis on great men in high places—to focus on the street, the home, and the workplace.

Why pick it up: Zinn shows that many of America’s greatest battles – fights for fair wages, eight-hour workdays, child labor laws, health and safety standards, universal suffrage, women’s rights, racial equality – were carried out at the grassroots level, against bloody resistance.





2. The Racial Contract by Charles W. Mills

What it’s about: With a sweeping look at the European expansionism and racism of the last five hundred years, Charles W. Mills demonstrates how this peculiar and unacknowledged “contract” has shaped a system of global European domination: how it brings into existence “whites” and “non-whites,” full persons and sub-persons, how it influences white moral theory and moral psychology; and how this system is imposed on non-whites through ideological conditioning and violence.

Why pick it up: “Fish don’t see water, men don’t see patriarchy, and white philosophers don’t see white supremacy. We can do little about fish. Now Charles Mills has made it clear how whites dominate people of color, even (or especially) when they have no such intention. He asks whites not to feel guilty, but rather to do something much more difficult – understand and take responsibility for a structure which they did not create but still benefit from.” – Jennifer Hochschild, Princeton University


3. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

What it’s about: In 2008, months before his election as president, Barack Obama assailed feckless black fathers who had reneged on responsibilities that ought not “to end at conception”. Where had all the black fathers gone, Obama wondered. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander has a simple answer to their whereabouts: they’ve gone to jail. Alexander’s book is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status – denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement. Since its publication in 2010, the book became a New York Times bestseller; been dubbed the “secular bible of a new social movement” by numerous commentators, including Cornel West; and has led to consciousness-raising efforts in universities, churches, community centers, re-entry centers, and prisons nationwide. The New Jim Crow tells a truth our nation has been reluctant to face.

Why pick it up: Alexander shows that, by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community – and all of us – to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.


4. White American Youth: My Dissent Into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement – And How I Got Out by Christian Picciolini

What it’s about: At 14, Christian Picciolini went from naïve teenager to white supremacist – and soon, the leader of the first neo-Nazi skinhead gang in the United States. How was he radicalized, and how did he ultimately get out of the movement? In this courageous book, Picciolini shares the surprising and counterintuitive solution to hate in all forms.

Why pick it up: As featured on the TED stage, a stunning look inside the world of violent hate groups by a onetime white supremacist leader who, shaken by a personal tragedy, abandoned his destructive life to become an anti-hate activist.




5. Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by Eli Saslow

What it’s about: Derek Black grew up at the epicenter of white nationalism. His father founded Stormfront, the largest racist community on the internet. His godfather, David Duke, was a KKK Grand Wizard. By the time Derek turned 19, he had become an elected politician with his own daily radio show – already regarded as the “the leading light” of the burgeoning white nationalist movement.

Then he went to college. At New College of Florida, he continued to broadcast his radio show in secret each morning, living a double life until a classmate uncovered his identity and sent an email to the entire school. “Derek Black … white supremacist, radio host … New College student???” The ensuing uproar overtook one of the most liberal colleges in the country. Some students protested Derek’s presence on campus, forcing him to reconcile for the first time with the ugliness of his beliefs. Other students found the courage to reach out to him, including an Orthodox Jew who invited Derek to attend weekly Shabbat dinners. It was because of those dinners – and the wide-ranging relationships formed at that table – that Derek started to question the science, history, and prejudices behind his worldview. As white nationalism infiltrated the political mainstream, Derek decided to confront the damage he had done.

Why pick it up: “No one can match Pulitzer Prize winner Eli Saslow’s skill at telling the most improbable, humane, and riveting tales of our time. Anyone despairing at the hate that has fueled so much of America’s politics ought to read this unforgettable story.” – Jane Mayer, New York Times bestselling author.


6. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

What it’s about: What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son – and readers – the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder.

Why pick it up: Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.



7. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo

What it’s about: The New York Times best-selling book exploring the counterproductive reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality. Robin DiAngelo, a white woman and antiracist educator, deftly illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility and “allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people’. Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue.

Why pick it up: DiAngelo invites us to have courageous conversations about the culture of complicity. To eradicate racism, she encourages white people to relinquish ingrained hyper-attachment to individualism and embrace predictable patterns of their own racial group. Her book provides strategies for people who truly endeavor to be a part of the solution.


8. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

What it’s about: How do you tell your roommate her jokes are racist? Why did your sister-in-law take umbrage when you asked to touch her hair – and how do you make it right? How do you explain white privilege to your white, privileged friend? In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to “model minorities” in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life.

Why pick it up: Whether you’re beginning your journey to understanding racism in America or believe yourself to be well-versed on the subject, this book is a tool to help broach conversations and help us work toward a better world for people of color from all walks of life.


Question: What books are you reading to understand and dismantle racism?

6 Books to Read During this Era of Isolation

6 Books to Read During this Era of Isolation

You know the expression found money? When you put on a jacket that you haven’t worn in a while and find a $20 bill in the pocket? There is such a thing as found time, too. Millions of people now have extra time on their hands during this era of isolation. You can choose to spend yours toggling between 24-hour “Breaking News” reports, or taking advantage of the opportunity to read a good book. We’ve gathered titles for perspective on leading through a crisis, and beautifully written prose that is once both personal and profound. Spend this found time wisely to help you fend off a mindset of isolation and focus on a good read.

1. How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell

What it’s about: “Nothing is harder to do these days than nothing. But in a world where our value is determined by our 24/7 data productivity . . . doing nothing may be our most important form of resistance.” So argues artist and critic Jenny Odell in this field guide to doing nothing. Odell sees our attention as the most precious—and overdrawn—resource we have. Once we can start paying a new kind of attention, she writes, we can undertake bolder forms of political action, reimagine humankind’s role in the environment, and arrive at more meaningful understandings of happiness and progress.

Why pick it up: We featured this book in our post last month, 6 New Books to Read By, For, and About Women, but the topic is even more relevant today when we need an action plan for thinking outside of the narratives of efficiency and techno-determinism. Provocative, timely, and utterly persuasive.



2. The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Eric Larson

What it’s about: A story of political brinkmanship set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers, his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage would go when the moon was brightest and the bombing threat was highest, and 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports—some released only recently—Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill, his family, and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turned in the hardest moments.

Why pick it up: The Splendid and the Vile takes readers back to a time of true leadership, when, in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill’s eloquence, courage, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together.



3. The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson

What it’s about: Full of extraordinary facts (your body made a million red blood cells since you started reading this) and irresistible Bryson-esque anecdotes, The Body will lead you to a deeper understanding of the miracle that is life in general and you in particular. As Bryson writes, “We pass our existence within this wobble of flesh and yet take it almost entirely for granted.” The Body will cure that indifference with generous doses of wondrous, compulsively readable facts and information.

Why pick it up: For a head-to-toe tour of the marvel that is the human body. As addictive as it is comprehensive, this is Bryson at his very best, a must-read owner’s manual for everybody.




4. Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin

What it’s about: Goodwin draws upon the four presidents she has studied most closely — Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson. They differed widely in temperament, appearance, and physical ability. They were united, however, by a fierce ambition, an inordinate drive to succeed. With perseverance and hard work, each of these men essentially made themselves leaders by enhancing and developing the qualities they were given.

Why pick it up: This seminal work provides an accessible and essential roadmap for both emerging and established leaders in every field. In today’s world, these stories of authentic leadership in times of apprehension and fracture take on a singular urgency.



5. The Book of Delights by Ross Gay

What it’s about: One of today’s most original literary voices offers up a genre-defying volume of lyric essays written over one tumultuous year. Gay offers a record of the small joys we often overlook in our busy lives. Among Gay’s funny, poetic, philosophical delights: a friend’s unabashed use of air quotes, cradling a tomato seedling aboard an airplane, and the silent nod of acknowledgment between the only two black people in a room.

Why pick it up: The Book of Delights is about our shared bonds, and the rewards that come from a life closely observed. These remarkable pieces serve as a powerful and necessary reminder that we can, and should, stake out a space in our lives for delight.




6. Gilead: A Novel by Marilynn Robinson

What it’s about: Robinson’s epistle takes the form of a letter from 76-year-old John Ames, a fourth-generation Congregationalist minister, to his son just before his seventh birthday. Ames is suffering from heart disease, and his letter, written in 1956, is a summing up of the past sprinkled with anecdotes and advice and sketches of the present, especially of his son and his wife and his best friend, also a minister.

Why pick it up: Gilead is better than a good book. It is a slim, spare, yet exquisite and wonderfully realized story that will long stand as one of fiction’s finest reflections on the sacramental dimensions of life. Matchless and towering.

History is filled with great leaders who were avid readers and writers (Winston Churchill won his Nobel prize in Literature, not Peace). Make time during this season of separation to invest in books that will help you navigate through our collective new normal.

Question: What books can you turn to during these times to nurture yourself as a leader?


Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!

How to Lead through Covid-19 and these Uncertain times

How to Lead through Covid-19 and these Uncertain times

This month, leaders across America took a collective step into the unknown. It’s something we do when we have a reason to step together for a common purpose.

We did it after December 7, 1941, when our isolation from war ended after Japan staged a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s something we did after President Kennedy gave what has become known as his moonshot speech on May 26, 1961, to challenge us to put a man on the moon and bring him home safely before the end of the decade. It’s something we did after September 11, 2001, as we watched members of the House and Senate gather for a moment of silence for victims of 9/11 then spontaneously breaking into “God Bless America.”

Times of collective uncertainty like the one we are facing now with the Covid-19 virus require leaders of organizations across the country to unite as we face the unknown together. From the empty shelves at the grocery store to the plunging stock markets to the steep disease progression graphs, it’s a lot to deal with. And, yet, as leaders, we still have to help our teams navigate through an uncertain future. When our people look to us for answers that we don’t have, there are still things we can do lead through the unknown.

Have “Ice in the Belly”

Being a leader in turbulent times can be nerve wracking. If you act too fast, it might turn out that you overreacted. If you act too slow, your organization may not survive. It would be wise to have what in Swedish is called Is i magen, “ice in the belly.” Roughly translated, it’s your ability to keep your cool in a critical situation.

As bad as things look, economic aid may be coming to help prevent layoffs as explained by Neel Kashkari, the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Kashkari is speaking from experience. He ran the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in 2008 which helped end the Great Recession and is sharing lessons learned with a level head.

Address the Lion in the Camp

Having ice in the belly does not mean that you are cool to the needs of your staff. Just as we’re seeing daily press briefings from the White House and leaders on the front lines like Governor Mario Cuomo, your team needs to see your face and hear your voice regularly. Social distancing does not mean emotional distancing. You don’t have to have all the answers, but you do still need to lead with compassion. As of late last week, a Glassdoor survey of nearly 1,000 employed U.S. adults showed that nearly three in ten (28%) respondents said their employer has done nothing in response to concerns of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Leaders often wait to communicate during a crisis—especially when questions outnumber answers. But keeping quiet will only amplify confusion and push employees to assume the worst. Stop employees from spiraling further into crisis mode by clearly and frequently communicating what has happened and what is needed in the short- and long-term to deal with the crisis. Honest communication—no matter how dire or uncertain the situation—allows you to bring your team and internal stakeholder up to speed on your organization’s strategy to chart a path forward. Acknowledge the lion, talk about it, and work together to deal with it.

Consider All the Options

Before layoffs, consider your non-obvious options for reducing cost. A four-day work week for roles where you have excess capacity will reduce staff cost by nearly 20% (assuming some costs will remain due to overhead and benefits). Some employees might agree to working half-time if they know that doing so will save jobs.

You can also offer employees the opportunity for unpaid leave if they so wish. Framing this leave as a sabbatical can help take some of the stigma of the absence away. In fact, you might find that some employees welcome these options and wish they could have had them all along. By making it clear that one of your overriding goals is to avoid layoffs, you might find that employees are amenable to the personal sacrifices inherent in salary-increase freezes, halting bonuses, bans on overtime, pausing of payments into retirement funds, reduction of vacation days, and other cost-saving measures. Your employees will appreciate taking part in trying creative approaches to minimize headcount reduction.

Going through a downturn and making tough decisions to keep your company afloat is hard. However, if you communicate frequently and act with a clear head you will show your team the much-needed leadership needed to pull us through this collective cause.

Question: What will your employees remember about your leadership during these uncertain times?


Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!

7 Emerging Women Leaders to Watch in 2020

7 Emerging Women Leaders to Watch in 2020

When it comes to leadership roles in today’s largest organizations, it’s still a man’s world. That’s the not so surprising takeaway from a report released by Peterson Institute for International Economics. What is surprising is the finding that organizations with 30% female leaders could add up to 6 percentage points to their net margin. Here are seven emerging women leaders making a powerful impact in the world today.

Amanda Nguyen – Founder, Rise

“Do you accept injustice? Or do you rewrite the law? I chose rewriting the law,” says civil rights trailblazer and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Amanda Nguyen, whose revolutionary fight for the rights of sexual assault survivors has continually defied the odds in today’s divided times. Following her own experience of injustice as a rape survivor at Harvard, Nguyen became determined to disrupt the way the criminal justice system treats the estimated 25 million women who are survivors of sexual assault. She founded the social justice startup Rise and helped draft the first-ever Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights, which received bipartisan support and became one of just 23 bills in U.S. history to pass unanimously through Congress.

For Nguyen, who has helped to pass over 20 laws since 2016, transitioning into activism was fueled by her frustration with the legal labyrinth she faced after finding that under Massachusetts law, her kit could be destroyed after just six months. “The worst thing that happened to me wasn’t being raped. It was being betrayed by a broken criminal justice system,” she recounts. After discovering many other survivors were facing the same betrayal, many with far fewer resources at their disposal, Nguyen’s mission to drive change for others was ignited. “This was about more than my individual fight. It was about millions of survivors who needed their rights, too.”



2. Kate Gulliver Global Head of Talent, Wayfair

Under Kate Gulliver’s expert eye, culture has become queen at Wayfair, the Silicon Valley home goods e-tailer. Since she joined as global head of talent and HR in May 2016, ranks of full-time employees have doubled to over 13,300—4,000 in last year alone. The influx of talent helped the company post record revenue last year—40% year-over-year net revenue growth in the fourth quarter—and find its way into the Fortune 500.

In the mad dash to staff up, Gulliver achieved a level of inclusion far beyond anything Silicon Valley has been capable of thus far. Roughly half of Wayfair’s full-time employees are women, and she’s making sure talented non-white-male candidates can find their way into leadership roles. To get there, Gulliver’s team has developed an in-house, data-driven program that has certified some 2,000 employees in non-biased behavioral interviewing skills, as well as an inclusive career-development curriculum.




3. Joy Buolamwini Founder, Algorithmic Justice League

Joy Buolamwini is a poet of code who uses art and research to illuminate the social implications of artificial intelligence. She founded the Algorithmic Justice League to create a world with more ethical and inclusive technology. Her TED Talk on algorithmic bias has over 1 million views. Her MIT thesis methodology uncovered large racial and gender bias in AI services from companies like Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon.

Her research has been covered in over 40 countries, and as a renowned international speaker, she has championed the need for algorithmic justice at the World Economic Forum and the United Nations. She serves on the Global Tech Panel convened by the vice president of European Commission to advise world leaders and technology executives on ways to reduce the harms of A.I. In late 2018, in partnership with the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology, Joy launched the Safe Face Pledge, the first agreement of its kind that prohibits the lethal application of facial analysis and recognition technology.




4. Katrina LakeFounder and CEO of Stitch Fix

In November 2017, Katrina Lake went public with her online retail and styling company, Stitch Fix. After a somewhat bumpy start, the company’s stocks skyrocketed since the initial public offering (IPO) and today, its estimated value is over $3 billion.

As the youngest female founder ever to take a company public, and CEO of the only female-led tech IPO of 2017, Lake told Forbes, “If I had listened to every venture capitalist who didn’t like this idea, to people who were on boards of publicly traded retail companies who thought this was a bad idea, I wouldn’t be here today. I didn’t want to just be a female CEO. I wanted to be a successful CEO, regardless of gender.”




5. Katie SowersFirst Female Coach in Superbowl History

The NFL is one of the biggest stages in the world for athletes and coaches. It was on that stage that this generation’s next big game-changer emerged: Katie Sowers, a woman of many inspiring firsts. As an Offensive Assistant Coach for the San Francisco 49ers, she made history on February 2, 2020, as the first woman ever to coach in the Super Bowl.

Currently in her fourth year with the team, Katie considers her gender only part of her story. And for Katie, who is also the first openly LGBT coach in the league, what makes her different is one of her biggest assets as a coach. “You need the ability to relate to people, to know what drives them and know what moves them. Coaching is about getting people to move in the same direction.”




6. Laura Kliman – Senior Flavor Scientist, Impossible Foods

With a background in organic chemistry, Laura Kliman spent time in the pharmaceutical industry researching cancer and Alzheimer’s drugs before switching to the biofuels sector. But she ended up working in restaurants after becoming disillusioned with the impact she was having on the world. That’s how Kliman happened to be working as a pastry chef in Chicago in 2016 when she heard about Impossible Foods on NPR.

Intrigued by the plant-based meat company’s combination of culinary arts, hard-core science, and environmental mission, she landed a job there as a flavor scientist tasked with minimizing the off-flavors that come with using plant-based ingredients to replicate the taste and texture of meat. Her research led to the Impossible Burger 2.0, which launched in January. Now as a key leader on the R&D team, Kliman is working on new products like the Impossible Sausage. If she’s successful, she’ll have convinced a population of meat eaters that the company’s plant-based alternative is not just better for their health and planet but also just as good as the real things.



7. Rebecca Liebman – Co-Founder and CEO of LearnLux

Rebecca Liebman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnLux, a financial technology company that helps people learn personal finance skills through online learning tools and connects them to the resources they need to take action. The company’s last round of funding was from Ashton Kutcher’s fund, Sound Ventures, and Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff. She is on the advisory board of HubSpot, a publicly-traded company based in Boston and was on the 2016 Forbes “30 Under 30” list. Before starting LearnLux, Liebman lived in Kenya and studied microfinance in an informal economy and completed environmental research in Germany, France, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

She worked at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and founded Take Back the Tap at Clark University to reduce half a million plastic water bottles from landfills. Rebecca has a passion for startups, education, and the amazing things that happen when they are combined.




QUESTION: What emerging women leaders do you know that are making an impact?


Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!

3 Reasons Why Humor Should be Part of Your Leadership Toolkit

Businessman and author Paul Hawken said it best,

“We lead by being human. We do not lead by being corporate, by being professional or by being institutional.” 

That may be why leadership experts like John Maxwell understand the value of a good laugh at their expense. Just watch this minute with Maxwell video about humor.

The best leaders know that humor and humility go hand in hand. They act to keep their feet on the ground and their egos in check. The timely and appropriate use of humor is an asset to any leader.

Assuming your sense of humor passes the timely and appropriate test, here are 3 reasons why you should ensure humor is part of your leadership toolkit:

1. Humor fosters creativity

When you’re the leader, everyone is watching you for problem solving cues. If you approach business problems with furrowed brows and rapid-fire questions, you set the tone for a culture of fear. Cut down on the intimidation factor by using humor. “Humor is a key ingredient in creative thinking,” says Michael Kerr, President of Humor at Work. “It helps people play with ideas, lower their internal critic, and see things in new ways.” You can find Kerr’s formula for how HA + HA = AHA! in this short clip.

2. Humor improves health

Today’s business challenges require executives to face tough situations with greater frequency than ever. When stress becomes a part of your routine for an extended period, it can lead to illness and chronic disease. In fact, research by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that up to 90% of all illness and disease is stress related. The good news is, humor is the physiological opposite of stress. It lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation, reduces muscle tension, and boosts your immune system. Find out more about the short- and long-term benefits of humor here.

3. Humor improves retention

When a team laughs together, it facilitates a sense of community and helps to create a positive corporate culture. It also helps to create a shared history. In an interview with Businessweek, University of Missouri-Columbia professor Chris Robert says that humor “enhances the degree to which you feel bonded and part of the group in the workplace.” When employees have positive emotions about their job, they’re more likely to stay. As Robert states, “You might get a better job offer, but it will take more to draw you away when you like where you work and the people you work with.”

Things will go wrong. The best leaders find the humor in the situation to keep things light and moving forward. Browbeating others is not as powerful as helping them have a good attitude and a little levity.

Question: Have you used humor to diffuse a stressful situation at work? What were the results? 

Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News