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Finding More Entrepreneurs . . . and Fewer Jerks

Finding More Entrepreneurs . . . and Fewer Jerks

I have two topics this week: the present-day obsession with clinging grimly to the status quo, when we have rarely needed change and entrepreneurial flair so much; and the obnoxious jerks whose presence in leadership positions disfigures too many organizations. These topics are linked by a recurring theme: the way that Hamburger Management—that dismal system of cutting corners, hounding people to reach crazy targets, and driving down every cost except the money paid to the guys at the top—blinds us to the reality that the way our workplaces function is a matter of choice, not some inevitable law of nature.

Entrepreneurs and Outrage
In an article for The Financial Times last week, Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, attacked business schools for their built-in conservatism and over-emphasis on accounting in place of entrepreneurial ability. She made the suggestion that the strongest drivers for overturning the status quo are discontent and outrage. That got me thinking, and what she says seems right to me (“Divine Discontent”). Significant change always demands energy, courage, and strong faith in an alternative vision. Complacent, satisfied, comfortable people do not support or desire any change. Nor do those who have been convinced by business schools—or anyone else—that the way things are today represents the only kind of business world that is possible. You do not find entrepreneurs among those who prefer things to stay as they are. It is obvious that the people most likely to drive change forward are those filled with discontent and a sense of outrage at the current state of affairs. Dame Anita is right in saying that we should hold to our sense of outrage and use it to fuel our determination to force change—whether or not business schools actively help or hinder the process.

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Organizational Dinosaurs
Imitation is so rife in organizations. They follow one another like lemmings, even though a moment’s thought can show you that doing what others have done first is an extremely poor way to create any kind of competitive advantage (“Industry Worst Practice”). Current management fashions are a rare case of evolution running backwards. Where competition in the natural world seems to drive species forward into ever more complex and demanding ways of outwitting their predators, recent years have seen our organizations proceeding resolutely backwards, relying instead on the simplest and crudest ways of competing: cutting costs as a way of life and trying to increase productivity solely by making everyone work harder, and for longer hours, without increasing pay (“Evolutionary Backsliding”.) This is the status quo that is so beloved of our hyper-conservative business establishment. It may provide a benefit for a short time, but such limited, instinctual responses are a dead-end in the competitive stakes. Any organization that resists this foolishness and keeps on working to produce smarter, more complex, and more effective ways of releasing human creativity will walk right over such organizational dinosaurs.

The Sad Biology of Jerks
I’m not the only person who feels a sense of outrage at all the small-minded, short-sighted, and self-centered behavior shown by people who ought to know better. Bob Sutton, a professor at Stanford, will shortly be publishing a book that shows how to recognize and deal with the jerks and assholes that infest organizations everywhere (“Jerk-infested Waters”). Just like us here at Slow Leadership, Bob’s objective is to help create a more civilized, less stressful, and more enjoyable workplace culture, free from the actions of those who are so blinded by short-term profit that they can’t see the mess they are making of everyone else’s life. Get the book, read it, and fortify yourself.

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One of the saddest aspects of the status quo—and of Hamburger Management in general—is the belief that people only do things when they are “measured” on what they have done and suffer in some way for failure (“Measurement Versus Trust”). No one is trusted to do what they have been convinced is right. No wonder so many managers are grossly overburdened. We are trying to turn our managers into a legion of control freaks, when what we need for greater efficiency is a workforce that can be trusted to do the right thing without waiting to be told—or checked on after the event.

Bringing Life back to Organizations
That brings me full circle to Dame Anita and her suggestion that accountancy is not the answer to our need for more entrepreneurial and creative people in business. The audit mentality that measures everything and knows the value of nothing is squeezing the life out of organizations (and maybe many business schools too). Should we simply accept that as inevitable? I don’t think so. It’s time to give our discontent free rein and fire up a sense of outrage at the mess. Only strong emotions like those are likely to bring change—and we surely, surely need it.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. His new book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.
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    Last Updated on June 12, 2019

    Top 10 Ways to Lead More Effectively with Humor

    Top 10 Ways to Lead More Effectively with Humor

    Humor and laughter provide so many rewards. Studies have shown 20 seconds of laughter yield the same benefits as 3 minutes of hard rowing. A Robert Half International study reported 84% of executives believe a worker with a good sense of humor does a better job. Incorporating humor more effectively in the workplace allows you to defuse difficult situations, reduce stress, create attention for new ideas, build rapport, and be a more approachable and memorable leader.

    With those benefits, it behooves you to hone your workplace comedic skills. So in the tradition of David Letterman, here are the top 10 ways to more effectively lead with humor!

    #10. Look for Joy in Life

    An important step is continually looking for joy throughout your life. This happens in a variety of ways:

    • Focus less on yourself and more on helping others. Need help? Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” the classic by Dale Carnegie.
    • Laugh more – kids reportedly laugh 400 times per day vs. 15 times for adults. Aim for laughing 40 times daily to be at least 10% of your former self!
    • Regularly read humorous comic strips and look for quips and funny comments in your reading.
    • Even in challenging situations, hunt for something funny or humorous you can take away.

    #9. Learn What Makes You Laugh

    If you’re trying to laugh 40 times daily, it’s important to know what makes you laugh and have ready access to laugh-provokers. Figure out 107 things which make you laugh. Unrealistic? Hardly! Why 107? Because 107 is funnier than 100! Here’s a recipe for listing what makes you laugh by simply identifying:

    • 13 Movies
    • 11 TV Shows
    • 5 Words or Phrases
    • 19 Personal Stories
    • 5 Cartoons
    • 7 Audio or Video Pieces
    • 11 Comedians
    • 7 TV Personalities
    • 7 Funny Photos
    • 7 People You Know
    • 15 of Anything Else
    • TOTAL = 107 Funny Things

    Collect & save these humor starters in a “Smile File” when you quickly need a laugh or comedic inspiration.

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    #8. Use Your Own Comedic Material

    Personal experiences are the most genuine humor sources for effective leadership. Look for humor in situations from your own life:

    • Funny things you have said or others have said to you
    • Pratfalls, be they mental, interpersonal, & physical
    • Embarrassing moments or unexpected happenings
    • Times of change or learning
    • Difficult life events (yes, even these can be humor sources)

    When turning personal situations into comedic material, remember lessons learned from a childhood humor staple: Knock-Knock Jokes. These simple jokes work because the knock-knock structure highlights familiar situations, uses only essential words and phrases, and clearly signals a laughing opportunity. They also demonstrate how humor springs from surprise. The laughs come from not knowing who or what exactly is behind the door based on the initial response to “Who’s there?”

    #7. Adapt Somebody Else’s Material

    Beyond your own experiences, there’s a tradition of “borrowing & adapting” (I didn’t say stealing) funny stuff from others. That’s why old-time comedian Milton Berle was called the “Thief of Bad Gags.”

    Part of borrowing successfully is using easily accessible humor sources in ways many don’t consider. Beyond simply Googling “funny” in front of quotes, one-liners, definitions, pictures, or videos, here are two other common sources you can adapt:

    • Cartoons – You can use cartoons in various ways by showing one in a presentation, telling the cartoon’s story (potentially making yourself a character) without any images, or using its punch line as a starting point for new humor.
    • Comedians – Mainstream comedians’ jokes or catch phrases are another source to modify and adapt to your personality or work situation. Watch lots of comedians and learn how professionals do it so well.

    #6. Understand Your Audience

    Using humor in a leadership position requires understanding boundaries on its proper use. It all starts with really understanding your audience by:

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    • Paying attention to top management’s attitudes toward humor.
    • Knowing the audience’s composition – this directly affects which humor types are appropriate.
    • Loving your audience as much or more than you poke fun at them.
    • Inviting others into humor since you can’t assume they share your same humor sensibilities.

    In case you’re contemplating using ad lib humor, completely knowing your audience is even more vital. Ad-libs have the potential for going horribly wrong because audience sensibilities have been misjudged. It’s very beneficial to actually plan and rehearse ad libs. It may sound odd, but identify common work situations you encounter and think through what usually goes wrong or provides a source for potential humor. Work out some “safe” funny comebacks to use as “planned” ad libs.

    #5. Know the Rules and Boundaries

    There are blatant humor no-no’s in the workplace which are quite acceptable for an onstage comedian. At work, avoid harmful practical jokes or pranks, heavily sarcastic comments, and humor rooted in religious, sexual, ethnic, or racial themes. Think you know your work setting well enough to tread on this dangerous ground? Here’s some advice: DON’T. The way questionable humor will be perceived by a workplace audience is too much of an unknown to take big risks when your career is at stake.

    Use this checkpoint to actually see if your intended workplace humor is SAFE. To pass the SAFE test, all of these statements need to be true regarding your joke, comment, or image:

    • I can Say/Show this to my mother.
    • It wouldn’t Anger me if I were the butt of the joke.
    • This wouldn’t trigger an FCC violation
    • Everyone in the audience will be able to get it.

    With even a hint of one false answer, dramatically modify your idea or better yet, abandon it and start over.

    #4. Get over Yourself

    Effective leaders don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re comfortable laughing at themselves and letting others be funny as well. Leaders should become adept at appropriately using self-deprecating humor, i.e., self-directed humor downplaying your own talents, stature, or accomplishments

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    You don’t want to use self-deprecating humor on simply any topic, however. It’s most effectively & appropriately used in:

    • Situations where you’re comfortable & self-confident
    • Areas where your credibility & competence are clearly established
    • Ways that fit your known personality & sensibilities

    Remember – when trying to borrow someone else’s self-deprecating humor, you need to share that person’s perspective & situation. If not, it’s simply deprecating! I once heard a decidedly non-technical Marketing VP call out “data geeks” in the audience. While that’s what they called themselves, she wasn’t a part of their group, and her comment, intended to build affiliation, fell completely flat.

    #3. Need Humor Ideas? Just Look Around

    The workplace is filled with situations lending themselves to comedy. Humor springs from exaggeration, wordplay, misunderstandings, ambiguity, contradictions, paradoxes, pain, and inconsistencies. If you work in any type of business or organizational setting, there are plenty of these situations to go around!

    As a leader, it’s your role to use the proper opptunities to encourage and employ humor successfully by ensuring that:

    • Your humor makes others feel good about themselves.
    • Hurtful fun isn’t made of those less tenured than you in the organization.
    • You don’t use humor when agitated since it can lead to apparent meanness.

    #2. Surround Yourself with Joy

    If you’re looking for more joy and levity in leadership, surround yourself with joyful people. These are people who are funny, easily spur laughter, and routinely cheer people up through their presence.

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    Cultivate relationships with these types of people. Spend time with them, learn from their successful uses of humor, and emulate elements of their approaches that work for you.

    Beyond basking in the joy these people create, select 3 or 4 of them to be an informal comedy team. As your comedy team, solicit their opinions to help you generate and refine humor ideas. They can also provide perspectives on potentially questionable humor material that makes it through the SAFE test, but still feels like it might not be right for a workplace audience.

    #1. Dive into the Fun

    Ultimately, the most important part of successfully using humor as a leader is actually sharing it in the workplace. Here are a few final tips to keep in mind:

    • Practice your humor in appropriate, low-risk settings to find out what works before trying it out with a bigger audience.
    • Signal a laughing opportunity through your words, actions, and tone. It’s also a good practice to give people “permission” to laugh in the workplace.
    • Finally, be earnest in using humor; don’t focus on laughs so much as lightening and adding fun into work settings.

    Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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