I stumbled this week. I was presenting a report to our Board of Education. It was an important project over two years in the making, and when the moment came, I flubbed it. Now it could have been much worse, but I certainly provided the comic relief in a pretty serious meeting.
I had prepared for that moment for months. I had written my comments weeks earlier. I ran through what I was going to say over and over. I didn’t sleep much the night before, but I thought I was ready for anything.
And then, when the moment came, I tripped up. I got too excited and jumped right over protocols (and the Board of Education) and into my speech. Everyone laughed.
I had a decision to make at that point, and thankfully the other people in the room showed me the right thing to do.
“That was awesome.”
When I was done, my text messages were supportive and fun. The lesson from my colleagues was clear. “Don’t take yourself too seriously.”
Leaders are so often in serious situations. Real, difficult, serious situations. The opportunity to lighten the mood is not always evident. It would often times not be appropriate. But when the moment does present itself- run with it! Life is short and too often hard. If there is an opportunity to see the funny side, take it. Take it especially if it means poking fun at yourself. Moments like that can teach you humility. People need to know…you need to know…that you are human, that you err, and that you recognize your mistakes and can give yourself grace.
I think it is important to note here that laughing at other people is never okay. In my case, the room was filled with friends. Everyone was clearly laughing with me and not at me. Humor is essential to effective leadership. Humor at your own expense can ease tensions and build relationships. But humor at someone else’s expense will almost always damage relationships.
I wish that I had been nothing but poised and professional in my meeting. I wish that it had gone the way I played it out in my head all those times. But it didn’t, so the options were clear: stress and worry about it, beat myself up about it, or laugh and move on. Humor isn’t always the appropriate response, but whenever it is possible, don’t take yourself too seriously.