Humor is an essential element of life and work. Recently I told a colleague that I wanted to laugh more and bring more fun to my days. So, I decided to explore what it would mean to bring more joy and laughter to the workplace and how leaders can use humor appropriate to enhance their leadership brand for more influence and impact.

There are different types of humor. This article addresses the adaptative humor that a leader can use in the workplace for various purposes:

  • Affiliative: Joking as a means of enhancing relationships, amusing others, and reducing tensions.
  • Self-enhancing: Using playfulness to bring fresh perspectives, lessening the tension in self and others, instead of taking themselves too seriously. 

Versus maladaptive humor, turning into derailers for leaders and causing a negative impact in the workplace: 

  • Aggressive: Sarcasm, cynicism, mocking of individuals and groups to ridicule others. 
  • Self-defeating: Amusing others by using self-disparaging jokes to voice their inner critic. 

Humor makes light of difficult or stressful situations and brightens up a social atmosphere. Naomi Bagdonas and Connor Diemand-Yauman, who lectures at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, have done extensive research on the intersection of humor, business, and leadership in their book, authored Humor, Seriously: Why humor is a Superpower at Work and In Life. The authors assert that humor is a powerful tool, and leaders should laugh more to lead better. In addition to creating positive and enjoyable experiences, adaptative humor positively affects the body. Here are some of their findings on the neuroscience of laughter: 

·     Laughing releases hormones such as oxytocin that change brain chemistry, making us feel happier, less stressed, and more resilient. 

·     Laughter makes us more creative and resourceful, improves our memory, and aids decision-making. 

·     Oxytocin prompts our brains to create emotional bonds, which is why we become more trusting of others when we laugh. 

Here are other reasons why to incorporate more humor into your leadership style:

·     Being calmer under stress improves chances to delegate more effectively and keep calm even in high-steak situations. 

·     Laughter also works as a reappraisal technique, reducing the limbic response associated with “fight-or-flight” reactions. In other words, when feeling stressed, the physiological act of laughter can decrease heart rate and blood pressure and relax muscle tension.

·  Just a moment of laughter allows us to think more clearly and creatively and raises relatedness with our colleagues. 

·     Humor can increase the feelings of well-being and belong. Laughing together can help remote virtual teams that share few experiences bond and create memorable experiences.

·     Humor also helps release the collective anxiety generated by constant volatility, uncertainty, change, and ambiguity, or VUCA. In Resilient Leadership 2.0, Duggan & Theurer recommend leaders not take themselves so seriously, find ways to incorporate playfulness to lessen the tension between self and others, 

In his book Primal Leadership, the authors assert that feeling good lubricates mental efficiency, helping people process information faster, creating a sense of optimism and enthusiasm that ends being contagious.

Moreover, research on humor at work reveals that a well-timed joke or playful laughter can stimulate creativity, open lines of communication, enhance a sense of connection and trust, and make work more fun. I used to have a humorous boss who made me laugh a lot in silly but fun ways, like hiding inside his desk when calling me to his office and then jumping out of the sudden. We used to laugh at small things that happened during the day at the office.

When bringing more laughter, consider your audience and be intentional. Toastmasters taught me that we speak to inform, persuade, and entertain. Being intentional about using jokes to open your presentations and participation in meetings not only does get people laughing, but they may point out similarities of experience, opinions, and values to make the team feel more closely bonded.

One of my former employers celebrated years of service milestones enthusiastically. Once a quarter, employees used to look forward to attending the service award celebrations for 10, 20, and 30 years of service. My manager was always the Master of Ceremony, running a great show with his humorous approach. Back then, I was scared to speak in public, and I would lose sleep imagining that one day my manager couldn’t attend and would call me to run the service awards. My worst fear came to happen to my dismay, and I found myself in the inevitable reality of leading the ceremony. Employees were filling quickly the huge training room, while I was standing in front of the podium with cold hands and shaky legs. 

With a microphone in hand and a trembling voice, I opened the ceremony, saying: good afternoon. Then, the entire crowd responded with a unisonous very loud GOOD AFTERNOON! I opened my eyes big, feeling even more nervous of that energy. Then, out of the blues, I said: “If I glance over, it’s not because I don’t care; It is because I can’t remember anything since I am so scared of being here.” Then, I heard the loudest laughter. I recall thinking, what did I say that was that funny? At that point, it didn’t matter. The collective amusement was the icebreaker I needed to help me relax and create rapport with my audience, bringing resonance since we were all there to have a good time.

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”Victor Borge.

A leader who effectively uses humor displays the following behaviors:

  1. Has a positive and constructive sense of humor 
  2. Can laugh and themselves and with others 
  3. Is appropriately funny and can use humor to ease tension 
  4. Uses humor intentionally to create resonance 

Some stoic leaders appear humorless. I worked with those who believed playing jokes would cause others to lose respect or be out of place. 

What beliefs can get in the way of using more humor with your team? 

On the other side of the spectrum are the leaders who overuse humor and become clowns. We all have met a coworker who plays inappropriate jokes at the least convenient times. Or the one that uses humor to deflect real issues. We also know about the sarcastic or cynical that plays micro-aggressions everywhere. 

Do you use sarcasm to convey your messages?

If you have a Growth Mindset, you know you can improve at using humor more effectively. Here I some dos and don’ts I researched to help you increase your LOL factor at work.


  1. Find humor in everyday life. What is funny about you that you want to share?
  2. Consider ‘owning’ a couple of jokes that reflect your personality and outlook and are safe for the workplace. 
  3. Pick up a joke that you like and that you believe is funny. If you laugh first, others will do after you because laughter is contagious. 
  4. Update your jokes repertoire from time to time to add new ones. Brain studies have indicated that we are driven to find new experiences, constantly craving variety.
  5. Laugh at yourself. Do not take yourself so seriously! Be willing to take a personal risk by being ready to make a fool of yourself from time to time. 
  6. Know the right timing for lighten the roomOpening a meeting is usually appropriate for saying something funny.
  7. Learn from the pros. Improv training is an enriching experience that will make you livelier at entertaining.
  8. Look for role models that use humor effectively to learn some tricks and personalize your delivery.
  9. Study humor in business settings. Read books on the nature of humor. Collect cartoons to use in presentations.


  1. Don’t use offensive humor. We live in such a polarized world with many extreme political, social issues, and the stakes are high to use these types of jokes that will hurt your reputation and get you in trouble. 
  2. Be mindful and respectful and avoid jokes about entire groups, cultures, race, political affiliation, and more. When in doubt, it is best to leave it out. 
  3. Be mindful of cultural differences in humor. A joke that produces laughter in one social group might not work in another. What is funny is culture-specific
  4. Know your audience. If you have English as Second Language employees, know that jokes don’t translate well. I still have limitations in understanding jokes that have a very localized nuance.
  5. Refrain from using sarcasm to veil criticism or making jokes to deliver negative messages. 
  6. Don’t use humor as a shield to diffuse or deflect real issues or problems or disrupt group processes with inappropriate humor. 
  7. It is best not to joke about your physical appearance if you feel insecure about your self-image—no need for self-harm or derogation. 
  8. Don’t joke at someone else expense. It is disrespectful and makes others uncomfortable, creating the opposite effect that you initially intended. 

In conclusion, humor is an essential part of life and work. Using humor effectively will increase your interpersonal skills, your social awareness, and your ability to manage relationships effectively. Laugh more to lead better. You can lighten your team’s mood and your own while creating more resonance as a leader and increasing resilience and well-being for everybody involved. Do you want to enhance your Leadership Brand? Laugh out loud more!  

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