Ep 45: Laughing Your Way To Leadership


In this episode, Bridgette and Irvine explore how important humor can be in making a leader more effective.  



Don’t forget to check out Irvine’s You Tube channel with new videos every Wednesday on emotional intelligence, resilience, and leadership.

Check out Irvine’s new book Leadership Lessons From The Pub.

Check out Bridgette’s book which she co-authored with Bod Duggan  Resilient Leadership 2.0.

And as always, don’t forget about all the mind-blowing free resources some of which are mentioned in each episode. 


Irvine Nugent [00:00:03]:


Well, hello, everyone, and welcome to the resilient leadership podcast where everything we talk about is aimed at helping you lead with a greater sense of calm and clarity and conviction even in these anxious times. My name is Irvine, and today as always, I am joined by my co host and collaborator, Bridgette Theuer Bridgette. How you doing today?


Bridgette Theurer [00:00:26]:


I am doing pretty darn well, Irvine. As you and I were just discussing before we hit the record button, I’m doing a lot better. I was a few days ago because I’m just getting out of my second bout of COVID. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.


Irvine Nugent [00:00:42]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:00:42]:


Here we are 2023, and we still have our fun little virus friend around. And it was worse this time than when I got in 20 20.


Irvine Nugent [00:00:51]:


Oh, wow.


Bridgette Theurer [00:00:51]:


But I feel a whole heck of a lot better, and I’m I’m ready to do a little bit of laughing with you.


Irvine Nugent [00:00:58]:


Okay. I like that.


Bridgette Theurer [00:00:59]:


I think that that might have something to do with this great topic we have teed up for today. So why don’t you tell our listeners?


Irvine Nugent [00:01:06]:


Yeah. Well, today’s topic is called laughing your way to leadership. You know, now if I asked everyone, what would you say would be the top five skills that a leader needs in 2023, I doubt that many people would say laughter. And in fact, if you kind of widened that even the top 20, We really don’t think that humor or laughter would come into that. And yet, there’s actually a lot of research in this area. And what it’s beginning to uncover is the power of laughter. And this energy that laughter unleashes in ourselves and in our organizations creates an ability for us to connect with people, it improves communications, And really, it shows our humanness and ultimately improves the bottom line. So therefore, what’s not to like about it. Now In last episodes, let me connect this with some of the the work that we have done in the past. One specifically was all about being a step on former and we talked about the importance of being a less anxious presence and inserted in that episode was a little reference that at times when organizations are really anxious, they tend to be so serious. There is no humor. There are no jokes. And one of the ways of really being a less anxious presence is by introducing a little bit of humor, a little bit of likeness. So today, we’re gonna talk about that. What does that mean? I mean, are we asking people to be stand up comedians? So what what does it mean to have humor in an organization and in leadership? Before we start, Bridget, I’m really curious. Do you consider yourself to be a humorous person?


Bridgette Theurer [00:02:45]:


Well, it depends on how you define that. I mean, Am I a stand up comic? Do I make people laugh all the time? No. But do I love to laugh? Yes. And with my close friends, I think humor is one of the hallmark characteristics of our friendships. We laugh a lot.


Irvine Nugent [00:03:03]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:03:03]:


And I enjoy getting silly, you know, and just and I I enjoy humor, and I feel like it’s an important part of my life. Now interestingly, when you ask me that question. A memory comes up.


Irvine Nugent [00:03:16]:


Oh, word.


Bridgette Theurer [00:03:16]:


For childhood. Mhmm. And I don’t have a lot of childhood memories. I’m not one of those people that can call a lot about my childhood. So the the few memories I have really stand out, and one of them involves humor. And it was Thanksgiving, And I was a young girl, probably in grade school, elementary school, and, we were all sitting around the table and my aunt and cousins were there and the turkey was being passed around and the tray was being handed to me. And I said something kind of offhanded just came to me in the moment, and the entire table erupted into laughter. And it was my first experience as a child of making people laugh. And I remember thinking, wow. Like, that was cool. You know? And I remember it to this day. And so I think laughter, isn’t it just, you know, it’s part of our humanity?


Irvine Nugent [00:04:11]:


Yeah. Yeah.


Bridgette Theurer [00:04:13]:


Yeah. How about you? Like, are you do consider yourself a funny guy?


Irvine Nugent [00:04:18]:


Well, I think I have a good ability to shine light on our common experience and make fun of it, and people tend to laugh. But, you know, your memories evoke within me some other memories as well because one of my earliest memories My father, Godares’ soul, he used to laugh. And when he laughed, it was one of these belly laughs. And he just laughed on controlling me. And the thing that got him goal was I can remember old black and white episodes of Lauren Hardy, and he would just cry he was laughing so much. And the whole house would laugh at him laughing at this. And I think I got that gene because back in the I think this was gonna be the seventies. We went to the movies and when my sisters and was airplane. And I was expecting, like, a really serious movie. It was that with the spoof, one of the, I think, the best comedy ever. And we were leaving it, and my sister said, I just want you to realize that although the people might have been laughing at the movie, they were laughing at you laughing at the because you laugh so much. I said, really? He said, oh, yeah. So, you know, we’ve talked about contagious emotions and laughter’s contagious. And I I think it’s a beautiful facet about our humanity.


Bridgette Theurer [00:05:29]:


Oh, I couldn’t agree with you more. And what I love about this episode is that we’re connecting it leadership, which other than the reference that you made early on, I don’t think it is something. You don’t when, you know, when people get an MBA or they go to institutes for leadership. There’s not a class in humor.


Irvine Nugent [00:05:48]:


That’s true. Very true.


Bridgette Theurer [00:05:50]:


So one of the things about this that I think is really interesting is this notion that there’s a connection between humor and the reduction of pain.


Irvine Nugent [00:06:03]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:06:04]:


Right? And so you had shared with me that researchers using pet scans were looking at the brains of participants after they had watched laughter inducing comedy with friends, which I think is an interesting part of study. They weren’t just watching the comedy show by themselves. They were with close friends. And after watching that show for about 30 minutes, They found that the laughter increased pleasurable sensations and triggered an opioid release in the brain. I find that to be fascinating that laughter is literally a form of medicine. And it releases endorphins in the brain. Yeah. Which, you know, just make us feel so much better. What do you think of that?


Irvine Nugent [00:06:50]:


Yeah. I mean, that’s just fascinating because you know, when we think about leading today and we think about being an organization, sometimes there’s pain there. So laughter really helps us deal with that pain. And And, you know, laughter also, it’s not just, endorphins. There’s all this whole chemical mixture that releases dopamine oxytosin. We mentioned oxytocin before because oxytocin is this bonding hormone. So it connects. So, you know, part of the work of leadership is to make connections. And so oxytocin is helping us do that through laughter, the shared laughter with other people. There’s a great Danish American comedian, Victor Borg. He used to say after is the shortest distance between two people.


Bridgette Theurer [00:07:31]:


Oh, I love that.


Irvine Nugent [00:07:31]:


I love that because what’s really happening, you know, he he might not have realized it, but he was actually being very scientifically accurate because this oxytocin was creating this connection for us and and this this feeling of pleasure So the other thing as well we’ve talked about is whenever we’re triggered, we go into this fight or flight mode. Laughter is another way of moving away from that because it helps reduce this limbic response, and it helps us increase a sense of safety. So all of that, it’s amazing just this simple laughter and humor is helping us. So you mentioned it before about laughter being the best medicine and actually it is. It’s not far from the truth. Therefore, let’s just move on to really think about why might this be important for a leadership skill. And, Bridget, for you, kind of what are a few things that come to mind when you think of laughter and leadership and their connection between both of them.


Bridgette Theurer [00:08:29]:


Yeah. Well, I’m thinking right away about how potent laughter can be for reducing stress in the workplace. Yep. We know that today’s workplaces are characterized by stress. I mean, that’s not an entirely bad thing. But, you know, a Gallup study in 2020 found that over 67% of employees said they experienced stress daily. So that’s a lot of stress.


Irvine Nugent [00:08:54]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:08:54]:


And we all know that stress has, is associated with some real negative health problems long term. And so The beauty of laughter is that it is a great ally in relieving stress for the reasons we just mentioned that it triggers the release of endorphins. Right? And it reduces feelings of pain. And in general, it just contributes to our sense of well-being. So a workplace culture that embraces laughter that sees it as, like, not just kind of a nice to have, but maybe even in essential aspect of working together. I think there’s huge benefits to be re re reaps there in terms of employees growing more resilient in the face of stress and performing well under pressure.


Irvine Nugent [00:09:41]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:09:41]:


Right? And then the other thing is, you know, you you sent something just a minute ago It was a quote about laughter being the shortest distance between two people. Is that what you said? Yeah. And so think about it in terms of its implication for teams. That a team that can laugh together immediately draws closer together. And that builds camaraderie. It it strengthens team cohesion. And a team that can laugh together, as you said at the beginning of the episode, is not taking itself too seriously. And therefore is able to stay open, you know, and and stay curious and not get all closed down. With anxiety or with stress. And so I think those two things popped to mind right away. It’s a great stress reducer, and it’s strengthens teams.


Irvine Nugent [00:10:34]:


Yeah. Yeah.


Bridgette Theurer [00:10:35]:


How about you? What do you think, Irvin?


Irvine Nugent [00:10:36]:


Yeah. No. I agree with the both of those examples. I think they’re really important. And I think at times, we we do forget, you know, when it comes to stress and tension, I think we get so focused on what’s occurring that we forget to to make light of it or to laugh at it. You know? And part of that is this relieving of stress. And And then teams, what I can remember being in some really teams that had a lot of tension — Yeah. — and yet the teams that that were best able to deal with tensions are ones that could sit back and and and have a share a joke, share some laughter and what had happened. I remember one team that was a knockout argument. Oh my god. It was awful. We laughed, and there was a lot of tension. And we came back the next week for the following meeting. And the two people that were in the argument had obviously talked offline or whatever but both of them come into the room wearing boxing gloves. Oh. And the whole room just just broke down laughing. And you’re saying we thought we’d be prepared this week. So it was it was, you know, kind of a a likeness as well. And I think they recognize that. And so this this ability just to disarm because, like, I can remember thinking about that meeting, get, dreading that meeting. And then just all of a sudden, I laugh and, boom, we were in the meeting again, and and it all lifted. Just because of of of being able to take something like. So I think that’s really important.


Bridgette Theurer [00:11:58]:


Mhmm. You know, I think as I was listening to you, I was reminded of the fact that my husband, Doug, is really great at this. Like, you asked, do I consider myself to be humorous? Yes. But he’s more humorous than me. He looks to laugh and add humor into everything, even the most difficult situations. You know? I can remember him making me laugh during some of our darkest times, and I am so appreciative Yeah. — of that because in our family culture, his laughter and his ability to really have a light touch


Irvine Nugent [00:12:37]:



Bridgette Theurer [00:12:37]:




Irvine Nugent [00:12:37]:



Bridgette Theurer [00:12:37]:


made a huge difference. And I’m curious about your husband, Fred, like, do you are you the more humorous one and heat benefits, or you’re both equally humorous?


Irvine Nugent [00:12:47]:


Yeah. They said it’s interesting. So it’s funny. I think when we get focused in our own work, we can become very serious. So I’m able to when he comes back and he’s had a tough day, I can add a little bit of levity you know, and kind of exaggeration works well, you know, for humor for him. You know, so he says, you know, it could be this as well. It really could have been that, you know, etcetera. And then, and then I’ll get very serious as well, and then he can kind of come in with a little bit of levity. So I think we sense each other’s seriousness, and we’re able to kind of use a little bit of humor for that.


Bridgette Theurer [00:13:18]:


Perfect. And, you know, that’s what leaders have to do is they have to be sensing Right?


Irvine Nugent [00:13:24]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:13:24]:


And noticing. You have to be very present. Yes. To bring forth this this leadership Ally because you have to be in touch with your team, and you have to have resonance with your team. Absolutely. So what else you know, we talked about stress reduction and team cohesion, but what are some other observations or thoughts?


Irvine Nugent [00:13:42]:


Well, it’ll come as no surprise that actually research is now showing that Also, it leads to increased performance. And, I was looking at this really interesting survey in Germany in, the industrial organizations there, 2014 survey. And had recorded 54 meetings and analyze them. And what they found is that those meetings that had a positive humor had a real positive effect on performance and communication and problem solving. And they also find something really interesting was that In those meetings that had some humor, there was much more participation from everyone in the meeting, and the meetings became a little more creative and offered some new novel ideas. So you can just see all that half and all that novelty and that creativity because It it almost laughter allows a freedom. It allows a freedom to kind of be yourself and to — Yeah. — to to participate. So that, you know, was born out in research. And then the other thing I think that’s important to perhaps mention is that I think we respect leaders more who inject some humor into it. You know, I think that, certainly shows that research that supervisors who use humor positively. It shows when you when you ask people, would you like them to be their supervisor? Absolutely. People consider them more motivating, and people wanna be on their team. And therefore, in turn, they also produce higher levels of performance, job satisfaction, and team cohesion. So you can just see that, you know, and this is not just about cracking a joke or being quick with it. I think, you know, you nailed it on the head. This is really an act of being present and really noticing what’s being said. And grabbing little opportunities to make light of situations where they’re able to feel a presence. You know? And I think a leader that walks in and is able to sense that something’s happening in a room is a real gift and then can inject a little bit of humor into that. That’s a real skill. And it’s a skill that can truly move us on and pass perhaps a block that’s been in the way.


Bridgette Theurer [00:15:57]:


Yeah. I really resonate with that. And it’s reminding me of a story that I told, many, many episodes ago about a guy that I coached who told me. Now this was a very buttoned up fella. It was very serious and very proper. And he told me in a coaching session that in his family, everyone relies on him humor. And I want they do. I was so taken aback by that. So I explored it with him, and I said, now do you use that light heartiness and humor at work. He goes, oh, never. Does this sound familiar to you, Irvin? Do you remember this guy?


Irvine Nugent [00:16:30]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:16:30]:


And so he thought that he couldn’t or shouldn’t bring it to the workplace that it was inappropriate. So here was one of his greatest gifts that he was — squelching at work because, you know, for fear that he might be misjudged or what have you. And once he realized that it was a leadership strength, it changed the way people felt about him. You know?


Irvine Nugent [00:16:55]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:16:56]:


Now he already had the strength it was just a matter of aiming it in a different direction. Right? But let’s talk about for our listeners, you know, how do you let’s say you’re not, you know, consider yourself a particularly funny guy or gal or you’re not somebody who goes around telling jokes a lot. How do we introduce humor into the workplace? Do you have some thoughts on that?


Irvine Nugent [00:17:21]:


Yeah. That that’s a great question. You know, I’m reminded of a quote from an actor Edmund Gwen who said, dying is easy. Comedy is difficult.


Bridgette Theurer [00:17:29]:




Irvine Nugent [00:17:29]:


it’s just so true because I think you know, when I think we we, you know, when people hear that, oh, humor as a leadership skill, well, all of a sudden in our mind, we have, oh, it’s these people who just can roll off these jokes or their stand up comedians, etcetera. And that’s really not what we’re talking about. The only thing as well, I think, is really important is that we’re not talking about a mean sense of humor. You know, there are there’s humor out there that gathers laughs from attacking another person and we have to be so careful. And so, therefore, I think the humor we want to lift up is something that shared that we all enter into or something that’s really shining light in ourselves. So maybe just let me just talk about that first one as a tip. Is noticing oddities around there. You know, if you go into work, there are shared experiences which either drive people insane or you hear things like, here we go again. And whenever you hear things like this, what what what’s going again? What’s happened again? Because I think those are clues to some natural humor that, obviously, there’s tension around this, but by shining light on it, the shared experience people begin to look at it in a different way. I recall a leader that was very adept in this. I was part of facilitating a meeting. It was around coming back to work. And boy, was there a lot of tension about that from COVID? And, you know, when you think we’ve gone through this shared experience, We’re really there wasn’t a lot of preparation. We’ve talked about this in other episodes. There wasn’t a lot of preparation. There wasn’t a lot of conversations about how this would be done. And now here, if a sudden we’re coming back. And so there was a lot of tension, and I think he really sensed that. And so he said, you know, As we begin this conversation, I’m I’m just reminded, you know, I miss so many things about the office. Having spontaneous chats in the break room leaving encouraging notes on my colleague’s desks and wearing anything other than pajama pants. And and all of a sudden, people just broke out thing because then this whole shared reality that for the last, what, 2 years, we’ve we god knows what we’ve been wearing below the weight.


Bridgette Theurer [00:19:37]:


You know?


Irvine Nugent [00:19:39]:


Shorts or pajama pants or anything. You know? And then I had another person who said, we’re in a Zoom meeting. He said, okay. I wanna do this little exercise. I would like everyone pleased to stand up and the look of sheer horror in people’s faces. And he goes, gotcha. And, and it was this shared moment, you know, of a gotcha, you know, because people were like, oh my god. I can’t stand up. So all of that is is taking a shared experience shining some light and helping people laugh at it. And that can be a real release and help people then enter into a conversation. Is one of the things that happen after the laughter there is that he he he was able to get very serious and say, look, I know this is difficult. And today, I want to have a really rich conversation. And I think it it created an atmosphere that enabled that rich conversation. So, Richard, what about you? Any tips about adding humor in the workplace?


Bridgette Theurer [00:20:34]:


Well, I would say my top tip, and this is really the thing I rely on the most when I’m giving a keynote or I’m facilitating an off-site is self debt cating humor.


Irvine Nugent [00:20:46]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:20:46]:


You know, it’s never really okay to poke fun at other people.


Irvine Nugent [00:20:51]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:20:51]:


Because you do so at the expense often, right, of making somebody else feel ostracized or uncomfortable. But when you poke fun at yourself


Irvine Nugent [00:21:00]:



Bridgette Theurer [00:21:01]:


Yeah. That is great. Everybody can do this. You know, all it takes is thinking about what are some of the, I mean, to use your tip oddities about myself that I can make fun of a little bit. And people can have a laugh at my expense. And nobody gets hurt. Right? We all just kind of, you know, have a little shared moment of lightness. So I think that works really, really well. And there’s, you know, just lots of different ways to do that. What you have to do is figure out what would work for you. What’s something about yourself that you can reveal? Now I think what can get in the way of self deprecating humor is if a leader is uncomfortable with vulnerability because you do make yourself a little bit vulnerable when you put it. Right?


Irvine Nugent [00:21:49]:


Totally. You


Bridgette Theurer [00:21:50]:


have to be willing to do that, and it actually then I think has the double benefit of creating a moment of laughter, but also showing that you can be vulnerable. Right? You don’t have to present as always being the perfect leader that has a altogether all the time. Yeah. No.


Irvine Nugent [00:22:08]:


I agree. I agree. Totally.


Bridgette Theurer [00:22:11]:


I love that. That’s my go to. Any other tips that you have or maybe a practice that you would like to be on?


Irvine Nugent [00:22:18]:


This is an interesting practice. I’m not gonna say write out three jokes and test them, but Yeah.


Bridgette Theurer [00:22:23]:


This is an


Irvine Nugent [00:22:23]:


area which I think we we don’t pay a lot of attention to. So my invitation today is to begin to notice how laughter impacts our lives. So I would like people to, first of all, begin to notice what humor makes you laugh out loud. You know, what do you like? Is it a a YouTube video of a cat jumping in the air? It’s something that’s not there? Is it a movie? Like like, if I sent you, what movie made you laugh the most? Is there a particular stand comedian. Just notice at what you laugh at. And I think once you notice, you’ll begin to see some of these themes commonalities that we’ve all been part of or or something unusual and oddity that we normally laugh at. And then notice what you laugh at in other people. What did they say? What what’s the topic they were discussing? And then a third one would be notice what other people laugh at you when what is it you were saying? What was the topic? Because very often, you know, we’re in the flow and conversation. People start laughing at something that we say, and it’s like, oh, that’s interesting. Wonder why people laughed. And then the final point I would just say is each day, you know, where this is coming from, I kinda remember who said this, but they said, you know, if every person’s day was put in a movie, there would at least be 10 minutes of hilariousness. So what what one thing happened to you today that actually is quite funny that could be shared with others? And and just to kind of sit back and laugh at the day. You know, sometimes you go to bed and we’re so full of stress. Like, oh my god. That was such a stressful day. But maybe an an an alternative would be What one thing happened today that was just funny. And just think about that and laugh a little bit at it as well. So it’s it’s kind of turning on that humor bone. And be be realizing because we think humor is not about inventing jokes. Humor is really about shining light on common experiences and our experiences and things that we do that are just odd and people find funny.


Bridgette Theurer [00:24:29]:


I love that. And I love it because It’s a practice around observation. And, you know, good comedians are good observers.


Irvine Nugent [00:24:39]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:24:39]:


And really good leaders. Are good observers


Irvine Nugent [00:24:42]:



Bridgette Theurer [00:24:43]:




Irvine Nugent [00:24:43]:



Bridgette Theurer [00:24:43]:


of themselves, of their workplace, of their teams. I love that. Thank you so much for sharing that. Well, this has been a fun conversation and one that I really needed because I said at the beginning, I’d coming out of a week of COVID. I needed to feel a little bit of lightness, and I think we can all be reminded that laughter and leadership go hand in hand that there are potent benefits, you know, stress reduction, pain relief, team cohesion. And even just as a leader, your stature and your standing with the people that you’re leading grows, every time you’re able to make a self deprecating remark. Yeah. Or introduce a moment of lightness. So thank you for bringing this to our attention, Irvin, and really having just a lovely dialogue around it.


Irvine Nugent [00:25:30]:


Excellent. I enjoyed it. My pleasure.


Bridgette Theurer [00:25:33]:


And next time, we have on tap an interesting topic called Stop chasing employee happiness. So tune in for that folks.


Irvine Nugent [00:25:43]:


Sounds interesting.


Bridgette Theurer [00:25:44]:


Irvin, it’s been a pleasure. Take care. Bye bye, everybody.


Irvine Nugent [00:25:47]:


Bye, everyone. Bye now.

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