Anyone that has been in the business world for a significant amount of time knows that a lot of very important deals get made on the golf course. And, that a lot of team bonding often happens outside of the office. With the right leader, a lot of team bonding can also happen inside the workplace.
When you have confidence, you can have a lot of fun. And when you can have fun, you can do amazing things. Joe Namath
Especially in the U.S. culture, we seem obsessed to have boundaries. There is a saying that was coined in the U.S., “Good fences make good neighbors.” Apparently, we think that separation and boundaries are what lead to harmony. I couldn’t disagree more, and I believe that great leaders know the opposite is true.
First, it’s important to distinguish silliness and a lack of focus to “having fun” or “playing”. I’m not talking about something like the popular TV show, “The Office”. I’m talking about a winning team that allows itself to pick its battles and laugh at itself when warranted.
Second, there is a time to work and a time to play. I am not endorsing a culture that promotes play at all times. What I’m talking about is the type of leader that is humble, can laugh at him or herself, and can play with others in a healthy way, at the appropriate times. If you think about the quote from Joe Namath above, I think we can all understand that he had to be very serious and very focused at times. But, his joy and approach to the game made him a winner, and he led his team(s) to do things that nobody thought they could do.
Leaders that are playful and have a good sense of humor, I believe, can only be that way if they love what they do and have a passion for what they are driving toward. If leaders hate their jobs and have no passion for their missions, people will see right through any attempt to be playful, and it can backfire as being forced or disingenuous.
Beware the double-edged sword of “Humor”
Humor in the workplace can foster a positive atmosphere that facilitates bonding, but too often jokes in the office fall flat, hurt feelings, and can even lead to lawsuits. Great leaders know they must create a culture that strikes the right balance in laughing at themselves (which shows them to be likable, trustworthy, and caring), but not directly at anyone else (which will likely be received as insensitive and arrogant). They must also be careful to govern a culture that does not allow for “digs” or otherwise passive-aggressive behavior masquerading as “harmless joking around”. Humor is a mechanism through which leaders express their concern for others (vs. the self) because of the potential for humor to be both a weapon to harm others and a tool to build relationships.
What is even more interesting to me is that, many studies are now showing that regardless of whether people actually thought a leader was funny, self-deprecating jokes are actually seen as an expression of a leader’s values and concern for others. Again, proceed with caution here. Leaders don’t want to make themselves into clowns. There needs to be humility, not a lack of confidence. A great leader knows it is good to be humble, but not to communicate self-esteem or confidence issues.
Lastly, on the topic of humor – tread carefully because your sense of humor gives people a window into your core values. It will show them what you truly value. So, be careful. Don’t overthink it, but proceed with extreme caution if any of your humor might be taken personally by anyone, or if it pokes fun at anyone but yourself. Furthermore, too much self-deprecating humor may backfire, coming across as insincere or fake. This is disastrous for any leader trying to establish movement toward the mission.
Of course, leaders “playing” with their team is not all about humor. It’s also about quality time. We all need quality time with the people around us. We all have deep needs to relationships that make us feel both secure and valued. The opposite is feeling empty and alone.
Leaders: Let me throw you a bone here. I know you understand the concept of making investments, and I know you understand cost control. Let me give you a scenario that gives you both. By spending quality time with your team, they receive many benefits that don’t cost you a dime. Making quality time is very underappreciated and undervalued, yet it is so powerful and so inexpensive. Again, we go back to established thinking patterns that, as leaders, we need to break.
We all know that playing with our kids gives them (and us) quality time, but we seem to lose that common sense when we as adults think about interacting with each other. Feeling loved and valued is important to me, it is important to you, and it is important for any person at any age. Feeling loved, valued and important builds self-esteem and self-worth, which is necessary for a fulfilling life.
When you spend quality time with your team, you can start to identify their strengths, as well as begin to identify areas for improvement. Through this, you can help them grow as a person by building on their strengths and helping them reach their full potential. This is a priceless return on your investment.
Going even further, think back on the time when you were growing up and all the time since then. There are many things that happen throughout your life that you need to talk about. By spending quality time with others, you are giving them a comfort level and the time to share things with you. This opens up the door for healthy, honest, candid communication. Again, priceless return on investment. And, don’t do this to be a great leader. Do this instead just to be a great person.
All of these factors weave together and are an integral part of having a healthy, trusting, and joyful culture dynamic.
Now, how about Jesus? He was free from sin, so how playful could he actually be? Well, he actually showed us that being playful is quite good, God-honoring, and shows strong leadership.
Jesus ensured there were no boundaries. He let kids run up to him and hug him (unusual in his time). He went to large feasts and parties with many of the people. He played with people. He sang with people and told stories. He made picnics on the shore. He held children, enjoyed them, and played with them. He loved parties so much that he created them by turning 3 loaves of bread into 3,000!
Transparent, authentic leaders are full of joy. They are bursting at the seams to show it and share it. To share joy and play with others, you need to let your guard down and be vulnerable. Even though he was the master of the universe, Jesus did this, and it built loyalty and bonding among his followers and all the people he came into contact with.
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. – John 21:25
The Bible only gives us small windows into Jesus’ life. Remember that the first 30 years of his life Jesus worked as a carpenter. There is a whole other story there…one I hope someday to know. There was a lot written about Jesus going to parties and playing with the people. I believe that we are to assume we only see a small snippet of that in the Bible. I believe that it went on all the time. This is a side of Jesus that a lot of Christian leaders don’t discuss as much as they should, in my opinion. We miss the mark a lot as leaders when we get caught up in all the intense, serious parts of our mission. The truth is, Jesus showed us that great leaders like to joke around, have fun, celebrate, and play with others. There is nothing wrong with this, and it is healthy. If you are a leader, and you are not spending any time playing with the people you lead, I would suggest you spend some time thinking that over. How fun are you to work with? Jesus was the most charismatic leader in history, and he showed us how important it is. We should follow suit if we also want to be great leaders.