Can Leaders Risk Being Funny?

I know, stupid question. Of course, they can.

Having a sense of humor has always been considered a vital trait held by great leaders. Humor can humanize a leader and create a powerful bond with followers. When used effectively, it can relieve a stressful or crisis situation (Captain Alfred C. Haynes) or focus the attention of a community verging on panic. Winston Churchill immediately comes to mind when I think of a great leader who had a terrific sense of humor and knew how to use it and polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton offers another example.

Of course, humor can also be a risky and dangerous card to play. It doesn’t always translate across cultural borders or over time.

So when a US Presidential candidate creates a commercial like this, he decides to take a risk with humor.

I really didn’t know much about Governor Mike Huckabee until watching this Youtube video and I certainly won’t channel my support based on this 60 second spot. But Huckabee did get my (and over 600,000 other people’s) attention on YouTube over the past few days since this video was launched. I’m sure he’s hoping some of these viewers will do a little more research and be converted into supporters. Unfortunately, there are probably even more Americans that will simply remember that Chuck Norris supports Huckabee and that’s good enough for them. (Mr. Norris, If you ever stumble upon this blog, I’ll be voting for Mr. Huckabee if he makes it that far. ;-) ) At this stage of the 2008 Presidential Race, Huckabee finds himself in the back of the pack; it’ll be interesting to watch if this video is a catalyst for an enhanced candidacy or a flash in the pan marketing gimmick.

Here’s another risk taking video from a candidate with slightly lower aspirations.

Mr. Knight is a little “kooky” (in an endearing way) but it sure seems like education in Rockland County would be a lot more fun and interesting with him around. (Check out his other commercials here and here. Hat tip to Powncer blogkitten.)

Leaders sometimes have to take risks. Governor Huckabee’s use of humor, while effective at securing visibility via the Internet, is a risk. To some it may present an interesting, likable and maybe a bit eccentric character they can identify with; others could find it a frivolous attempt at being “hip” and not in keeping with the seriousness of the task at hand. The jury is still out but in the meantime I learned a little more about one of the candidates and that’s a good thing.

Humor is one valuable tool that every leader should have in his or her tool box; however, like all sharp and pointy things, it should be handled with care and caution lest someone gets hurt.

What do you think about leadership and humor?

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Peter A. Mello

Husband, father, son. Lifelong mariner, student of leadership, photographer. Professional creative placemaker.

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