By Spela Majcen Marusic, Communications Manager
In a world driven by technological transformation, artificial intelligence and automation, trust is at an all time low. Excelling in human interaction has become key to the making of a great leader in a generation accustomed to praising and seeking authenticity. “Humour is the most underappreciated and underleveraged asset in both business, and in life.” explains Dr. Jennifer Aaker, The General Atlantic Professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Coulter Family Faculty Fellow at Stanford Graduate School of Business (2020–21).
One thing that differentiates the modern leader from what we’ve seen in the past, are their traits for success. Demonstrating authenticity and honesty in regard to their personal history and overcoming challenges, maintaining the ability to ‘speak like regular people’, and presenting themselves in an aspirational manner, all play into this. A Harvard Business Review study found that 58 percent of employees trust a complete stranger more than their own boss.
Leaders thus face unprecedented challenges, as their millennial employees seek to understand them, rather than follow instructions based on seniority and hierarchy. A modern leader needs to be understood, rather than revered, as we’ve seen in the past.
This puts them in a position, where modern leaders need to be bold, open to change, and command a sense of purpose amongst employees. By communicating purpose and continuously explaining the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, allows modern leaders to build a firm foundation of trust, crucial in a contemporary workplace. Research shows that understanding the purpose of the organization positively correlates with productivity, retention, and even physical health. 84% of executives believe that an organization that has shared purpose will be more successful in transformation efforts.
From a very early age we listen to stories, following the adventures of kings and queens, forest animals and mythical creatures. As an adult we may feel life doesn’t allow time for enjoying new stories, however our brain says otherwise.
“The ability to cultivate storytelling is key for CEOs to lead in a more meaningful way.”
Dr. Jennifer Aaker
Listening to a narrative with a beginning, a middle and an end, moving through its arcs, drawing breath at cliff hangers and relaxing with a happy ending, connects with us at a personal level. Thus storytelling continues to be one of the most dynamic ways to learn about each other and explore the world around us.
Stories are one of the strongest tools that modern leaders can leverage to communicate purpose. When told well, even a short but powerful story will connect the listener to the speaker at a personal level. By throwing in a limited amount of relevant data, the audience’s brain is hooked in both hemispheres, logical and emotional.
Therefore if stories do have the power to build trust and communicate a sense of purpose, the use of storytelling is the ultimate trick up the modern leader’s sleeve.
Humour, that mindset that looks for ways to inject levity into situations, diffuse tension or even present the most boring presentations as bearable. Humour can be the weapon of choice in all tactical or tense situations, from diplomacy, to diffusing inappropriate behaviours, and building strong business teams.
According to dr. Aaker, “leaders with a sense of humor are seen as 27% more motivating and admired, their employees are 15% more engaged, and their teams are more than twice as likely to solve a creativity challenge”. And not only this, leveraging the power of humour increases revenue. A silly dad joke at the end of a sales pitch could increase customers’ willingness to pay by 18%.
The power of humour is chemical by nature, and it is undeniable that creating a moment of levity in business can increase bargaining power, build bonds quicker, enhance problem solving, encourage creativity, and boost resilience by diffusing tension.
The good news is that humour is a teachable skill. By understanding your humour style (take a quiz here) and adding a few new techniques to your repertoire (such as exaggeration, contrast, and the rule of 3), you can develop simple and safe jokes, based on truth, that might be exactly what you’re looking for in a tough situation. Remember, laughter may be universal but jokes aren’t; make sure to consider all cultural, social, and religious aspects before trying to crack a smile in the workplace.
“An artist’s relationship with fans is the new key to success in the music world. Creating contextual content, as hilarious as it could be, and making it go viral on platforms such as TikTok or Instagram, can create the next hit.”
Alfonso Perez, Warner Music Group
Humor teaches you to be present, and appreciate the here and now without taking yourself too seriously. What more could we wish for in our ever changing new reality, burdened by the ongoing pandemic.
One thing we should all wish for more is love. Love, in its broadest sense can be felt in many different ways and is closely connected to having a purpose and feeling valued in any situation. Love is one of the most motivating forces we will ever come across in life.
“People want to be valued members of a winning team on an inspired mission.”
Dr. Jennifer Aaker
Gallup’s research from 2016 showed that employees who derive purpose and feel valued at work are 1.4 times more engaged with the company, have 1.7 times higher job satisfaction and are 3 times as likely to stay longer with their respective companies.
Simply by making employees feel seen and valued, companies increase their potential to reach “limitless” goals.
“Love reminds us what it is to be human, and it reminds us that the role of business is to be more human too.”
Dr. Jennifer Aaker
At the onset of World War II, Winston Churchil worked to “win the hearts and minds” of soldiers fighting for freedom. Today, in a society increasingly driven by algorithms, this almost a century old concept resonates louder than ever. Bold leaders, communicating with authenticity, fueled by humour and mindful of the power of love, are those that through the use of stories can win the hearts and minds of their people, and thus rationalise the world around them.
So, let’s shift our mindset and look for ways to inject lightness into otherwise mundane, serious, stressful situations.
After all, YOLO.