As I finished a client’s strategy session report this morning, I kept thinking about how the CEO has changed over the past five years since we last worked together. He’s still brilliant, tenacious, out-spoken, aggressive, driven, blunt, and not politically correct — Can you see why I like him? Yet he’s changed. He’s no longer afraid to laugh. And that change has caused a huge shift in how he and his senior staff interact, plan, work, produce, profit, and succeed.
1 – “If there is no laughter, there is no trust.” Mitzi Perdue
Last year, during a casual after-dinner conversation with Mitzi Perdue, the brilliant and engaging widow of Frank Perdue, Mitzi simply stated: “If there is no laughter, there is no trust.” I vividly remember how her comment resonated with me. It is so simple but fundamentally true. If you can’t relax enough with others so you can laugh and enjoy time together, you’re holding back for some reason. You’re not trusting yourself, them, the environment or something else. You’re in protection, control, defense, or some other type of alert mode. You’re not trusting that it’s safe, therefore you’re not laughing.
2 – If we can’t laugh at ourselves and each other, what’s the point?
During my client’s strategy session this past week, one of the managers made a cryptic comment and the entire team burst into laughter. The laughing continued for at least two minutes with the CEO and almost every senior manager laughing so hard they were crying. I’d never seen them laughing at and with each other like this before. I’d never seen or heard the CEO laugh with a genuine belly laugh. After they quieted down and the CIO explained their inside joke, the CEO said, “If we can’t laugh at ourselves and each other, what’s the point?” Wow. The man who I’ve seen slam his hands on his desk, yell at team members, and act like a bull in a china shop now appreciates laughing with his team. I also noticed that the man who now appreciates laughter, also appreciates his team members’ ideas as they’re being shared. He no longer interrupts or belittles them. The man who now appreciates laughter, is more patient and accepting of analyzing the non-technical, people-related implications of strategic decisions. The man who now appreciates laughter, also understands that if he can’t admit he doesn’t know the answers, he can’t expect his team to admit they don’t have the answers either. If we can’t laugh at ourselves and each other, how can we expect to work together?
3 – If we’re not laughing, something is wrong.
I’ve seen it enough in client organizations over the years, that I’ve developed an unspoken test for my office: If we’re not relaxed and comfortably laughing with each other, something is wrong. Either there’s an interpersonal issue, client issue, technical issue, business process issue, financial issue, or some other issue that’s causing us to not interact comfortably. Until that issue is discussed and addressed, we have a hard time moving on. Laughter is great medicine and a great predictor of when things are going right. Its absence is a great predictor of things going wrong.
As a leader in your organization, ask yourself: Is there laughter here? Does my team laugh with me or do they shut down when I walk in the room? Is there laughter in the hallways or are people afraid to make noise? Is there easy banter and laughter before team meetings or does everyone just take a seat and wait? If we’re not laughing, something is wrong.
This article was originally published on Liz’ website, and is reprinted with permission.