An excerpt from his book Humor that Works.
Published here January 2020


Musings Index

Humor and Leadership
by author Drew Tarvin

Author Tarvin's book: Humor that Works is about showing how humor is really a Missing Skill for Success and Happiness at work.[1] As reviewer Phil M. Jones observes:[2]

"Funnily enough, this book is hilariously useful. Think of it as a practical playbook that helps you consider the way you do things and results in heightened levels of happiness. Every leader should read this book, work with the tools provided, and get serious about making people smile."

Author Drew Tarvin says:

"Improvisation is about adapting and changing in the moment so that you can proactively reach a desired outcome (usually humor). Combined, improvisational leadership consists of five values needed to lead in an ever-changing world, to lead on your feet. These are: Vision, Versatility, Vulnerability, Vigor, and Velocity."

1.  Leaders have vision
If the goal of leadership is to influence people to take a certain action, you have to know what that action is. "If you want to change what people do," says Tamsen Webster, former executive producer at TEDX Cambridge and acclaimed idea whisperer, "you have to change how they see." Simon Sinek has made an entire career out of the value of starting with why. As his book and TED talk so effectively demonstrate, understanding why you are doing something is the key to influencing others to follow.

2.  Leaders seek versatility
As the old management adage states, "If two people think exactly the same, one of them is unnecessary." Bringing together a diverse group of people helps you accomplish the what, why, and how of your vision. But not all teams are created equal. Understanding your teams' strengths and weaknesses, as well as your own, is crucial to leading effectively. As Motivating Millennials author Ryan Avery says, "Don't build a team, build the team."

3.  Leaders show vulnerability
To lead with purpose and authenticity, you have to be prepared to share and encourage everyone's humanity. Leadership doesn't mean micromanaging details; it means helping manage the team's energy and wellbeing for long-term growth and productivity. This means creating psychological safety and building an environment that allows people to be vulnerable. On the best teams, respect precedes results.

4.  Leaders encourage vigor
Change is constant and will happen whether you want it to or not. With change comes the risk of making a mistake or getting things wrong. But failure is just data. Research from Carol Dweck has shown that having a growth mind set - belief that most abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work - is vital to building a team that strengthens over time.

5.  Leaders create velocity
Thinking and doing are two very different things. Leaders actually execute the plan put in place. Action creates more action, and momentum builds as your team reaches milestones and successes, no matter how big or small. Knowing matters; doing matters more.

Drew observes that:

"To achieve these five values as a leader, you have to be intentional about your goals and then inspire humans to get there."

About the author

[An]Drew Tarvin says he is the world's first humor engineer, teaching people how to get better results while having more fun. Combining his background as a project manager at Proctor & Gamble with his experience as a stand-up comedian, he reverse-engineers the skill of humor in a way that is practical, actionable and gets results in the workplace.

1. From the book Humor That Works: Chapter 9 Humor and Leadership page 159.
2. Ibid, front page
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