The Snitch

Just a little of everything HR

Leaders should be laughing stocks. Or at least just laughing.

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You know the childhood song that goes “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”? Well, when was the last time you clapped at work?

I’m a firm believer that you have got to work where you’re happy. I’m not saying quit your job and join the circus (but if you know of any openings, give me a buzz), but as a leader, I do think it’s on you to make sure your staff aren’t dragging their feet into the office everyday, dreading the next eight or nine hours of their lives.

I recently read an article, which not only supported my view (one down, thousands more to go) but also suggested leaders with a funny bone are more likely to be better managers. I had a sneaky suspicion this was true, but decided to ring up Umar Rana, founder of Comedy Masala in Singapore, and hear what he reckoned.

“People who are fun definitely have an advantage,” he said. “If you’re liked, people are willing to go the extra mile for you. Good leaders are always people who are able to make a good impression.”

Umar shared that in comedy, it takes an audience just 30 to 45 seconds to decide whether they like the comic standing in front of them. That’s not a hell of a lot of time.

Now, bring that stat back to the office. Imagine the difference it would make if a leader has mastered the ability to engage and inspire someone on his staff within the first minute of a meeting or presentation.

So if you’re interested in being a more likable boss, Umar shares some secrets right out of the comic’s handbook to help you make a difference.

“When it comes to speaking or presenting, I think a lot of people rush because of nerves. It happens all the time in comedy. Be it when telling a joke or presenting in front of a town hall, it’s important to look at everyone without actually focusing on anyone in particular.”

Umar lets me in on another secret. Although comics are excellent at making you feel as though they’re looking right into your soul, the truth is the bright stage lights make it hard to see anyone in the audience.

“But as I’m talking, I still need to make them feel as though I can see them and am talking to them. That’s the key.”

The third thing, Umar said, is confidence. “Russell Peters could be telling his best joke, but if he’s looking around, fidgeting, it’s going to be distracting. The same goes for a leader making a presentation. There has to be a visual and emotional connection, and you need to command respect.”

I’ve always considered comics to be the fastest thinkers on their feet. To create material – and funny material at that – almost instantly based off social cues is a skill I envy.

“As a comedian, I go live in front of 200 people every week. I am prepared for anything. So when I speak to anyone, no matter now senior or junior they are, they’re just another person to me. It’s my job to connect with you as another person.”

However, should you still struggle with confidence, there are ways to direct attention off yourself while still engaging your audience. “Just shift the energy to something else. Look at something else, change your body language. That’s all there is to it.”

But is comedy something you and I can pick up? I ask because I’ll tell you, I’ve had my share of cricket harmonies after what I thought was a kickass joke.

“Everyone, on some level, has a sense of humour – it’s just a matter of timing. There aren’t any prerequisites. You just need to want to do it, and that’s the beauty of comedy.”

Aside from trying to be the Drew Carey of your office, Umar also shared other things leaders can do to better engage their employees.

“The first thing you need to do is to get everyone out of the office. You can’t build those bridges in the office. A night of bowling can change a perception of someone. All of a sudden, it’s okay to laugh when the boss throws a gutter ball. Right there, in seconds, you’ve broken all those barriers,” Umar said.

“And for goodness’ sake, don’t do a team lunch,” Umar said. “First, you’ve most likely disrupted someone’s lunch plan. Secondly, I don’t want to be with the same people I’ve been with all morning. And when I get back, I’m going to be sleepy and I still have to deal with these people. Drinks over lunch makes for an easier atmosphere.”

So, if anyone’s wondering, I’ll be at Comedy Masala next week, reporter’s notepad in hand, honing my skills at being a better leader. Yes, yes, I know I haven’t got anyone reporting to me (yet), but I figured, no harm starting early.

Besides, I could definitely use a laugh or two. I’m still not over the fact that journalism is in the bottom five jobs to have.

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Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

May 11, 2012 at 9:51 am

One Response

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