Leaders can learn a lot from comedians. They’re captivating public speakers, they practice economy of language, and they’re experts at insight. Insight is a critical leadership skill.
Today’s post is by Antonio Garrido, author of MY DAILY LEADERSHIP: A Powerful Roadmap For Leadership Success (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
To be clear, I’m not saying that it’s the leader’s job to joke their way through the difficulties of the day. Nor am I saying that the leader’s job is to find something to lampoon in order to amuse others.
No, my argument is this: comedians are experts at insight: they are wonderful at drawing seemingly unrelated pieces of information together in new and unexpected ways. The best leaders have a similar gift: they have the ability to ‘see beyond the data’ and notice patterns, trends, or truths that nobody else sees. And then, like comedians, when they draw attention to the path of their particular perspective, suddenly everyone else sees it too – this is insight in action.
Comedy is Insight in Action
Have you ever noticed how often comedians say, “Have you ever noticed how…?”?
Have you ever noticed how…
you’re never quite sure whether it’s okay to eat green crisps.
triangle sandwiches taste so much better than square ones.
you’ll always pour a glass of water from the sink faucet, but never ever the bath faucet.
“Have you ever noticed how…?” is an example of cultural referencing and looking at the world from a different perspective. Comedians are brilliant at finding ways to come up with a new way of perceiving the world. We don’t see insight till we see it, and then once we do, we can’t ever unsee it. The best leaders do the same. The best leaders use insight to see what others don’t or can’t yet.
Great Leadership is Also Insight in Action
If real leadership is about ‘future proofing’ (future proofing themselves, their people, and their business), then the ability to see the as-yet unseen or unrevealed is critical. This is why Steve Jobs insisted the iMac was launched in four bright colors (not beige), because he realized color is a critical way for people to express themselves. Insight. This is why Bata Shoes opened a shoe factory in Africa where nobody wore shoes, because they saw a potential opportunity where every other shoe manufacturer saw, well, a market where nobody wore shoes. Insight. And this is why Sam Walton of Walmart insisted on building superstores between towns, and not in them, because of lower rates and fewer competitors. Insight.
Insight, as comedians will tell you, can be developed. And you can’t get more insightful without getting more creative. Creative insight is what we’re after. The most creative leaders are, at their core, playful – playing with ideas and scenarios and messages. Great leaders have creativity sessions actually scheduled on their weekly calendar.
Take a look in your calendar right now. Go to next week. How many scheduled, blocked-off slots are there for “thinking” or “creative time” or “idea generation?” How many?
Count again. None? Exactly.
What you should see in your calendar is forty-five minutes peppered here and there for blue-sky thinking and ideation. Or even better, five minutes every morning and evening dedicated to creative thinking in your Leadership Journal. If you don’t make time for creativity, for insight development, you’ll find a million less important tasks to do.
As the extraordinarily insightful Maya Angelou once said, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use it, the more you have.”
Lighthearted, Not Lightweight
The best leaders, like comedians, are lighthearted, not lightweight: we often confuse the two, but there’s a difference.
I’ll never forget how one of the best leaders that I ever had the pleasure of working for always took time to start every speech with an amusing anecdote or observations (insight). He used this insight skill to great effect too when studying a lengthy balance sheet, or considering the salient KPIs of a particularly complex plan.
He would even charge the HR departments to specifically identify candidates who would test high for insight when recruiting new leaders.
Here’s an example of how this inspirational leader would begin a typical meeting. How’s this for the opening line of an annual general board meeting to announce that year’s performance? It’s probably important to note that the company was a world-leading lock-maker with global revenues of around 100 billion.
He began, “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for attending our annual general meeting. It’s a little-known fact that my entire work life has been involved in security in one way or another. You probably don’t know this, but my first ever job was selling security alarms door to door. I was really, really good at it. I’d knock and if there was no one at home, I’d always leave a brochure on the kitchen table. They’d call me right away.”
Okay, so that’s not the best joke you ever heard, but for that particular audience it was the perfect opener to a discussion that would at times, he knew, be rather difficult. It probably goes without saying that this particular leader was a master at insightful strategy development.
Insight is a Key Leadership Differentiator
In terms of leadership, insight is one of the key differentiators – it separates the best from the rest. Insight allows the leader to peek into the future and helps them to start creating a pathway into it today.
Too many leaders rely on their intellect, or experience, or tried and tested methodologies. Unfortunately, though, the future is increasingly uncertain. This means that new directions and new and uncertain futures will require, if anything, new insights. Wayne Gretzky skated to where the puck is going to be, and not to where it is now – and that’s the leader’s job too. Intellect and experience might have got you here, but insight, will get you there.
In closing, comedian George Burns probably said it best: “Look to the future – because that is where you’ll be spending the rest of your life.”
Antonio Garrido, author of MY DAILY LEADERSHIP: A Powerful Roadmap For Leadership Success, has over twenty-five years in senior leadership positions with world-class businesses. He is a serial entrepreneur, successful business coach, author, and charismatic speaker.
For more information, please visit www.MyDailyLeadership.com
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