Humor Over Leadership

Uncategorized Feb 02, 2018

I had a position in sales for my very first job, early in my career, and did lots of cold calling for a small family business. As with most things in life, jobs notwithstanding, it's all new and exciting and everything is wonderful on Day 1. If you have ever had a long-term relationship, a job for more than the probation period, or lived with someone, you know this is #truth.

As the routine sets in, people's true colors are revealed and things seem to change drastically, sometimes overnight. Excitedly jumping out of bed with pep in my step to go to work, quickly turned into peeling myself out of bed and begrudgingly dragging myself into an office that I dreaded.

Strangely, the leadership of my company always seemed happy and optimistic. They had smiles for miles and were always laughing and joking. If this was their experience and they didn't get “a case of the Mondays”, why was there such high turnover and low morale in their teams? They would hire one person one week, and then the next week 2 people would quit. They would hire 2 people and 3 would quit.

It was a revolving door of employees - in and out. They had such low morale that one person would consistently call off sick twice a week. It was the inconsistencies in management behavior that made people suspicious. The random firings and high turnover were fail-safe signs that something was terribly wrong.

The Directors often used humor in their management style. They believed it endears colleagues and connected their people. And if you believe humor in the workplace is a good thing . . . . you are right!

It's also can be a bad thing and in this case a very bad thing. Humor used in a way that is not universally accepted, inclusive and understood can be detrimental to morale. It this company's case, it was humor using inappropriate, insider and often misogynistic jokes. Humor at the expense of others.

It seems like a whole lifetime ago, but I too was subjected to being the butt of a joke. I can look back and laugh now! One day when I was working at this particular company, a company meeting was called. I’d been to many company meetings in my career, so I didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary. I walked into a conference room of random office chairs, chose one and sat down.

Unknown to me, this seat I had chosen was a preferred seat of one of the Directors. It wasn't a special seat, like at the head of the table or next to a window or even sitting next to anyone important. It was just a good ole' random seat. There were no assigned seats or unspoken rules about seats (of which I am always very aware). Somehow, seeing me sitting in the chair really irked this Director. He decided at the next meeting that he would humorously highlight how annoyed he was. At the next meeting during his turn to talk, he announced he was going to give an award to someone in the room. We all excitedly looked around thinking what accomplishments we might be awarded for.

As he called my name, he declared "I am giving you the award for annoying me the most"! Some award, right? No, I am not making this up... I wish I was. But, there I was - spotlighted.

After this announcement, half of my coworkers clapped awkwardly, while the other half awkwardly did not. He presented me with a used pair of the top sales person’s tighty whitey's (please don’t ask me HOW I knew they were used). Now, in his mind this was hilarious!! He could think of no better joke, prank, or whatever you want to call it. My awkward cringe and laugh (because you never really know how to act in that situation, or at least I didn't) were not the kind of response that made me feel good at all. You'll be happy to know that promptly afterward, I delivered my resignation.

What we learn from this train wreck called management/leadership, is that your humor may not match your employee's humor. Leaders need to be able to discern "humiliation" and understand, even under the guise of humor, humiliation does not make someone want to do their job better.

Have you ever encountered poor choices of leadership humor? What do you think? How would you react to a nice, dirty pair of framed tighty-whiteys?

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