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ATD Blog

Want to Lead? Try a Little Love and Laughter

Friday, April 16, 2021

Leadership development is a peculiar dynamic. As we progress in our careers, we often look for opportunities to hone our leadership skills. This is a perfectly normal thing to do and most of us recognize the value of continued growth to achieve our professional goals. We may seek opportunities for additional licensing in our field. We may even pursue a certificate from some well-known leadership institute, get it framed, and proudly display it on our walls.

These are noble approaches and common ones. There is a sense of achievement, maybe even notoriety, where the more well-known organizations are concerned. And let’s be clear—this type of method to building management, leadership, and supervisory competencies can yield some positive outcomes. But is this enough? Does the certification as a “fill-in-the-blank leader” truly position us for leadership success? The answer is, it can, but only if these approaches are added to a foundation that is solidly constructed from authentic love and laughter.

For far too many years, the soft skills have been air quoted as addendums to the leadership equation. Empathy, kindness, and compassion are often met with rolling eyes and comments about tree hugging and trust falls. In the meantime, employee engagement scores fall. People do not feel that there is trust in their organizations. Empathy is lacking. Sorry, no leadership certification can solve these problems. Where leadership is concerned, we often fall into the trap of focusing far too much on direction and not enough on connection. This is where love and laughter come into play.

Love begins with a love for oneself, including all of our faults and attributes. We accept ourselves for the way we are and bring that beauty into the workplace. We humbly work to improve on our weaknesses, and we celebrate our strengths. We willingly show love to those with whom we work and those whom we serve. The research shows that when we can do this authentically and honestly, we create workplaces of passion and commitment, the components necessary for mission accomplishment.


Laughter, as with love, begins with self. Are we able to have a self-effacing perspective about ourselves? Leaders who are comfortable with laughter and humor in the workplace are not comedians. They are simply well-balanced, easygoing, and willing to keep things in perspective. They often possess wit or a unique perspective regarding situations they face in the office. Appropriate and timely humor creates an environment that bridges the gap between all levels of staff, senior to the most junior. Humor brings us together.


When we allow love and laughter to infuse our leadership approach, we build organizations that are relaxed, inclusive, and more welcoming. This fosters an environment of innovation and creativity. Staff are comfortable thinking out loud. They’ll ask difficult questions. They’ll care for one another, and they’ll be connected with one another. This is exactly the bottomless resource that leaders seek, the discretionary energy and thought that goes into solving today’s vexing organizational problems.

The fact of the matter is this: Leadership approaches will come and go. Certifications, the newest consulting fad, the cavalcade of catchy new acronyms, and everything we spend thousands of dollars on every year will change. But the power of love and laughter is forever.

About the Author

Patrick Malone is director of Key Executive Leadership Programs at American University in Washington, D.C. He is a frequent guest lecturer on leadership and organizational dynamics and has extensive experience working with government leaders. Patrick’s research, teaching, and scholarship include work in public sector leadership, executive problem solving, organizational analysis, ethics, and public administration and policy. He is a retired navy captain, having spent 22 years in a number of senior leadership and policy roles.

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