This week, the John Maxwell Leadership Podcast is continuing
to explore the shift from
success to significance. It’s a great two-part series, so I hope you’ll
take some time to listen. While we’re on the topic of
success to significance, I want to pause for a moment to talk about one of
the essentials for making that shift successfully:
Don’t take yourself
I mean it. Take every possible moment you get to laugh at
yourself along the way. In an age where so much is demanded of leaders, the
call to perpetual gravitas is something every leader should seek to avoid.
Personally, I love to
laugh. I don’t take myself too seriously because I’m well-acquainted with
my own faults and follies. And that’s as it should be—because my staff knows my
faults and follies too!
I’ve often told younger leaders that it’s good to admit your
mistakes, just so your team knows you’re aware of them too. The same goes for laughing
at yourself—you might as well join in with everyone else who’s chuckling at
It’s no stretch to say we live in a highly self-obsessed
culture. I’d say self-centered, but what we’re experiencing today goes beyond
that term. We’re as absorbed in our own worlds, our own thoughts, and our own
feelings as I can remember—and I lived through the 60s, 70s, and 80s!
This self-obsession produces a lot of unpleasant things:
polarization; online trolling; the demonization of anyone who doesn’t agree
with our points of view. People are retreating to echo chambers where they
don’t have to deal with anything that upsets their personal philosophical
It’s making leadership in this day and age a bit more
challenging. Juggling so many different (and seemingly incongruent)
perspectives is a tall task.
leaders are taking a stand on the political issues of their choice. Some,
like my friend Ed Bastian, are taking stands on principles and values.
Regardless, one thing is certain: people are looking to leaders to show the way
We’re a world craving significance. And we need good leaders
to take us there.
But on our way to a higher calling, let’s not neglect our
need for humor. There are several benefits to being a laughing leader:
1. It’s Authentic
No one can be serious all the time. I love to poke fun at
myself. I’m 72 and I have a long track record as a leader—and I intend to keep
it going! I travel, I speak, I write books, and I keep a steady pace with all
of those things, which often prompts people to ask me, “John, how do you do it
And I just smile and say, “Simple. High energy. Low IQ.”
There are so many moments in life when laughter is simply
the appropriate response for the circumstances. But beyond that, the ability to
laugh at yourself is also a sign of self-awareness, which is a great guard
2. It’s Healthy
The old saying that “laughter is the best medicine” has more
than a little truth to it. Workplaces that embrace laughter have
higher rates of productivity, and leaders who can chart the course (in a
healthy way) reap the benefits.
Laughter also helps reduce stress and increase camaraderie,
which can transform an office culture. Additionally, the Mayo
Clinic says that laughter produces long-term health benefits like an
improved immune system, pain relief, increased personal satisfaction, and an
3. It’s Helpful
In his The Mysterious
Stranger, author Mark Twain wrote, “For [the human] race, in its poverty,
has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter…Against the assault of
Laughter nothing can stand.”
I believe that connection is essential for leaders if they
want to communicate well, and one of the shortest paths to connection is
well-timed humor. When we can laugh, and get others involved, it helps us
establish common ground—and might just lead us to discover far more in common
than we believed possible.
There are still common-sense rules for humor within your
team: know that you need permission, know and respect individual senses of
humor, know and keep healthy boundaries. Your job is to lead, not to be the
office stand-up act.
But as you lead people towards the high calling of
significance, don’t forget to lead them to laugh along the way. I love how my
friend Kevin Myers puts it at his church, 12Stone: “We take our mission
seriously, but not ourselves.”
May the same be true for all of us who are called to lead.