Leading with Laughter

We all have those days when we feel uninspired, unmotivated, exhausted and just plain ‘off’. And whilst it would be great to lie in bed and hide from the world on those days, most of us can’t and we have to front up to work.

And this means – for many of us – not just simply turning up, but being ‘on’ (insert jazz hands) to inspire teams, deliver exceptional client experiences and work positively and productively in teams.

So how do we deliver such positivity and be ‘on’ when all we really want to do is hide away from the world?


For me, the most effective way to turn an off day around is to firstly be self- aware (to identify the ‘why’) and then laugh.

Whenever I feel ‘off’, stopping and reflecting helps me identify the cause of the mood. Sometimes it helps to understand whether my mood is due to not enough sleep, poor food choices, hormones or not enough exercise. That first step is important for me as it tends to create an acceptance of my mood and me! And it is a reminder that it is ok to have off days; in fact, it’s absolutely normal.

The next step – for me – is to laugh. When I’m feeling ‘off’, I’m typically not in the mood to talk to anyone let alone laugh with anyone, so I like to laugh to myself. I’ll watch some funny videos or watch comedians that make me laugh (Michael McIntyre never fails)! I’ve created a ‘go-to’ folder of humorous material that I can rely on to help shift my mood.

I always like to be open about my mood and the need for humour to get me through it, and I will often share what has made me laugh with my teams. In that way, I can create a more relaxed and fun atmosphere at work and increase the mood amongst my teams. In sharing, I’m trying to say it is ok to laugh during work and more importantly, it’s ok to feel ‘off’ some days and be open about what you need to get through it.

The science of laughter

And the effects are great – the laughter turns my mood around quickly. That’s because laughter really is medicinal. Laughter increases blood flow, decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells. Laughter relaxes the whole body and according to a leading health and wellness guide ‘Help Guide’, laughter triggers the release of endorphins. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.


There are many benefits to a good laugh. According to Wilkins et al, “Theories and the Physiological Benefits of Laughter 2009” laughter can connect you to others, enhance teamwork, help reduce conflict and can create creativity and trust. And while I doubt anyone disputes this, sometimes when you are feeling really ‘off’, the last thing you feel like doing is laughing.

That is why it is so important for leaders to lead with laughter and create a culture that not only allows humour in the workplace, it encourages it in a respectful and relaxed way. Michael Kerr, an international business speaker, president of Humour at Work and author of The Humour Advantage: Why some Businesses are Laughing all the Way to the Bank (2013) says the type and amount of humour in any given workplace depends on the culture. “In workplaces that encourage people to be themselves, people tend to be more open with their humour” he says. “Even people who aren’t always comfortable sharing their humour tend to do so in more relaxed environments where the use of humour becomes second nature with everyone’s style.”

Leaders need to provide the tools to help people get through their ‘off’ day. Because we all have them. Allowing humour and laughter to be injected into the workplace will help reduce those negative, flat moods more effectively. Paul Osincup, a speaker and humour strategist, Using Humour to boost Productivity and Positivity in the Workplace, says that people are pining for leaders and mentors who are relatable, imperfect and sometimes silly.

A leader does not have to be a comedian. But a leader does need to be able to laugh at themselves and be conscious of creating a positive, fun culture where people don’t take themselves too seriously.