October 2, 2013

Clowning Around – An Important Leadership Attribute

clowning2On average, Americans aged between 25 and 54 spend 26 percent of their time working, 33 percent of their time sleeping and the rest—roughly 41 percent of their time—doing anything but sleeping or working. This is according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By comparison, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates in their Better-Life Index that member countries spanning the globe spend on average 20 percent of their time working and the rest on leisure, sleeping, personal care, etc.13 So, depending on where you live and how researchers arrive at the data points, workers are spending somewhere between one-fifth and one-quarter of their total available time working and earning a wage to help fund those leisurely activities, life-long planning, trips to Old Trafford to watch Manchester United and so on.

But when you cut the data a little differently and focus on total available waking time versus total time, it looks somewhat different. Based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 33 percent of time is spent sleeping. Each year, we all get 8,760 hours to use as we see fi t. If 33 percent of the time is spent sleeping, it leaves us with 5,869 available waking hours. Americans work on average 2,278 hours per annum, which now correlates to a hair shy of 40 percent of waking time being spent on work. Said differently, Americans spend 60 percent of their waking hours with family and leisure, household or other activities while 40 percent is spent with work colleagues, wherever that employment takes place.

Now that we’re looking at data that suggests 40 percent of our waking hours are spent with work colleagues, don’t you think leaders should be spending a portion of their time clowning around? I do—it’s an important part of being a connected leader. In a world of quarterly targets, profit margin quests and cost constraints, a little levity can go a long way.

How to be clowning:

  • Business is serious but you don’t have to be all the time; ease up and smile for starters.
  • Lighten the mood; encourage those on your team to poke a little fun at you once in a while.
  • Don’t work till you drop; clowning can come in the form of coffees, lunches and outings.
  • Gaming isn’t just for kids; participate in online games or outings like bowling with your team.
  • April Fool’s is just one day of the year; clowning should become part of your regular leadership style.
  • clowningJokes aren’t taboo; learn how to tell them and, even better, encourage your team to do so as well.

In a 1985 paper the communication department of the University of Delaware explores patterns of humorous communication against the context of organizational culture. The research indicates humor can:

  • manage the tension between hierarchy and egalitarianism that emerges from the group’s enactment of power structure;
  • regulate interdependence among group members; and
  • balance the forces of differentiation and integration in the group’s communicative enactment of cultural identity.

I’m not suggesting you join the circus, but start by adding a little humor to your leadership style. Clowning around is an excellent attribute to add to your connected-leader-being repertoire. You don’t need a giant red nose or purple hair to prove it.

<Adapted from Chapter 5 of my book Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization>

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