Tongue-in-Cheek Leadership?

“Joel, you’re not taking this seriously!”

I’ve heard that one a bit over the years. If there’s a joke to be made, I’ll make it. If there’s a lighter side to an issue, I’ll find it. If things aren’t looking great, I’ll be the one to attempt to lighten the mood with a little pinch of gallows humour.

It’s not because I’m shy of taking things seriously – it’s because I trust a good-humoured group to achieve great things more than I trust a straight-laced one. If we allow our sense of humour to find its way into the driver’s seat, we give our teams and their endeavours an important advantage. With good humour comes goodwill and a drive to see things done well.

I saw this one play out in a hybrid-format leadership workshop I ran last year using LEGO Serious Play. Most of the leadership team were in the room with me in Perth, with a small, remote team in Brisbane. On the surface, the remote team looked like they were going to be the rowdy kids at the back of the bus. Minimal supervision, maximum rascalry. We were there to talk about the leadership team’s identity as individuals and as a group, the company’s vision for the future, and how those things would influence they way they navigated the changing global conditions that have accompanied the pandemic.

The remote team in Brisbane built the model in the picture – a Tyrannosaurus at the top of a tree, eating a cow head-first, labelled “EAT THE WEAK.” Elsewhere in the model were the usual suspects from a strategy build, models representing “significant growth,” and “balance,” but it was big Chompy up there that caught our eye and made us laugh.

Then the story kicked in. It wasn’t really about the dinosaur, it was about the cow. Big Rex represented being a major player in their field, but the model was actually about integrity – the significance was in the interaction between dinosaur and cow.

“We want to be at the top of our game, at the top of the tree. The cow here… well, bull***t might help you get to the top, but it definitely won’t help you stay there.”

On the surface, and at first glance it looked like the rowdy kids messing around without supervision, but it contained one of the day’s really memorable insights. By trusting that sense of humour, the group had a rock solid picture in their head for what integrity looked like, and they rallied around it. By trusting that sense of humour, the standard for achievement was set high, and the group was invested in it.

At the end of the session, the CEO sat back in his seat and said “we could not have had THAT conversation in ANY other way.”

Trust your sense of humour, your sense of fun, and your sense of joy. They’re good drivers, and the destination’s great for everyone.

Joel Birch
LEGO Serious Play

Joel uses the LEGO Serious Play method to help individuals, teams, and whole organisations do their best thinking by leaving their “outer grownup” at the door, and letting the inner child do the important work. If you would like to read more about Joel and his workshops on Essemy click this link.