A dealer in humour

Leadership is hard to define, and more often than not good leadership is a series of simple gracious acts rather than a single act of bravado or brilliance. What I have come to realise is that when you make people feel comfortable and guide them to the cradle of their own power then you empower happy employees who characterise what you want to see in an organisation. A sense of humour goes a long way in fostering that feeling of comfort and ease.

Humour can positively amend any situation and help us cope at the very instant we begin laughing. Through humour, one can soften the blow of some difficult circumstances that life might throw at us. Minutes before giving my first address as the Vice Principal of a school I was edgy. Of course I was ready, and knew what I was going to speak was crisp and meaningful, yet the butterflies in my stomach were fast changing to dragonflies. I had written my speech down on a piece of paper and clenched it as though my life depended upon it. I sat among the dignitaries outwardly poised while everything churned on the inside.

The function began with the lighting of the lamp. This was the first time I was to be a part of this solemn occasion. In my disconcerted state, I didn’t realise that while lighting the wick I had actually put to flame the piece of paper in my hand. My speech! Rao, the Principal of the school noticed the flames first and nudged me. Before others could catch a glimpse I quickly put the little fire out. My first speech as the Vice Principal now rested on half burnt crumpled paper.

I thought this entire episode would make the Principal rather upset; instead she just laughed. “Aditi, I’ve done sillier and funnier things than this when I first became Principal and still continue to do so,” she said with a twinkle in her eye as I sat next to her mortified.

“Don’t worry about it, inane things happen to the best of us. Just see the humour in it dear”. I’m not sure if such fiascos were ever a part of her life as she is a rather composed individual. I’m sure she said what she did just to put me at ease. I felt relaxed. In fact, I chuckled to myself.

When the time came I gave my speech with some aplomb. As I basked in the applause, I realised that no matter how trying the circumstances, it is one’s response or reaction that counts. And if that response is tempered with humour like that of Rao, it repairs, reassures and rebuilds our belief in all that is good in this world. A good leader exemplifies that mistakes are a part of life and should be dealt with equanimity.

Like a welcome summer rain, effective leadership with a healthy mix of humour may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you.

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