Eight reasons why comedians make good leaders
After a landslide victory, a popular comedian with no political experience becomes Ukraine's next president. Are comedians really the best leaders?
If you were browsing Netflix's comedy section recently, you might have noticed the Ukrainian sitcom, Servant of the People. In it, an ordinary history teacher is unwittingly elected president of the Ukraine.
In an unusual turn of events, the star of that series, comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, was recently actually voted in as the next president of Ukraine. While there's no doubt Zelensky is a popular comedian – does he really have what it takes to lead the country?
As part of my ongoing doctoral research, I surveyed 230 musical directors to find out what skills they think they need to lead successfully. Many of these leaders reported that telling a joke or a funny anecdote was important. Of course, we all enjoy a good giggle, but is cracking jokes really a useful way for leaders to spend their time? The research I have been exploring on humour and leadership suggests that we might be better off employing Michael McIntyre than Bill Gates. Here, are eight key ways that leaders can usefully use humour in their work:
1. Creating a 'team'
Good leaders want a unified team behind them, if for no other reason than it drastically reduces the chances of a coup occurring (UK prime minister Theresa May can doubtless tell you more about that). Using humour has been shown to strengthen solidarity between colleagues and successful leaders can channel humour into team spirit, uniting their followers behind them.
2. Avoiding fatigue
Laughter might not always be the best medicine, but if leaders want to motivate flagging followers, a well-placed joke might do the trick. Using humour relieves boredom and raises energy levels. This is a handy trick for leaders and not just in formal workplaces. Leaders of exercise groups, for example, might use humour to motivate class members, enabling them to feel the burn for longer.
3. Softening criticism
Often, leaders have to deliver criticism without alienating their followers. An easy and effective way of managing this is to deliver this criticism in a lighthearted way. This is particularly useful if the leader wants to get along well with their followers. Speaking of which…
4. Balancing power and politeness
Leaders depend on their followers respecting them. They will also, however, have an easier time working with their team if they do so politely as opposed to dictating. Using humour is a great way of positioning yourself as leader of a group without rudely reminding everyone that you're in charge and they have no choice but to follow you.
5. Diffusing tension
Even under the best of leaders, mistakes happen and occasionally tensions will run high. In this situation, as a leader you have two choices. Maintain a stiff upper lip and plough on in the face of revolt. Or make a joke, lighten the mood, and diffuse the tension in the room. Using comedy in this way smooths over friction and resets the mood.
6. Eliciting goodwill of followers
(Almost) everyone likes to be liked. Leaders, however, can really benefit from being popular. Research has shown not only that humour can encourage followers to think positively of someone, but that it can also suppress negative feelings towards them. You do, of course, have to be careful, as it's possible to overcompensate – just think of David Brent's relentless nonsense in TV series The Office.
7. Fostering creativity
Humour comes in many forms but a common type of joke involves unexpected combinations of incongruous ideas: "One morning I shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How he got in my pyjamas, I don't know" (Groucho Marx). One of the byproducts of combining odd ideas in this way is increasing creativity levels in groups, making teams more productive and innovative.
8. Benefiting health
We all feel better after a good laugh, but the benefits of a good giggle go further than just cheering us up. Humour expert John Morreall puts this best:
Physically and mentally, humour is the opposite of stress. Laughter lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation, reduces muscle tension and pain, and boosts the immune system.
So what does this mean for aspiring leaders? Well, comic timing isn't going to turn a terrible leader into a hotshot CEO, but it turns out that if they use humour carefully, leaders can turn laughs into votes or giggles into team spirit.
Perhaps Volodymyr Zelensky isn't really unprepared for his new job at all. David Brent probably had the right idea all along: "When people say to me: would you rather be thought of as a funny man or a great boss? My answer's always the same – to me, they're not mutually exclusive."
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The images and our best computer models don't agree.
A trio of intriguing galaxy clusters<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzNDA0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTkzNzUyOH0.0IRzkzvKsmPEHV-v1dqM1JIPhgE2W-UHx0COuB0qQnA/img.jpg?width=980" id="d69be" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2d2664d9174369e0a06540cb3a3a9079" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The three galaxy clusters imaged for the study
Mapping dark matter<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d904b585c806752f261e1215014691a6"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/fO0jO_a9uLA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The assumption has been that the greater the lensing effect, the higher the concentration of dark matter.</p><p>As scientists analyzed the clusters' large-scale lensing — the massive arc and elongation visual effects produced by dark matter — they noticed areas of smaller-scale lensing within that larger distortion. The scientists interpret these as concentrations of dark matter within individual galaxies inside the clusters.</p><p>The researchers used spectrographic data from the VLT to determine the mass of these smaller lenses. <a href="https://www.oas.inaf.it/en/user/pietro.bergamini/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Pietro Bergamini</a> of the INAF-Observatory of Astrophysics and Space Science in Bologna, Italy explains, "The speed of the stars gave us an estimate of each individual galaxy's mass, including the amount of dark matter." The leader of the spectrographic aspect of the study was <a href="http://docente.unife.it/docenti-en/piero.rosati1/curriculum?set_language=en" target="_blank">Piero Rosati</a> of the Università degli Studi di Ferrara, Italy who recalls, "the data from Hubble and the VLT provided excellent synergy. We were able to associate the galaxies with each cluster and estimate their distances." </p><p>This work allowed the team to develop a thoroughly calibrated, high-resolution map of dark matter concentrations throughout the three clusters.</p>
But the models say...<p>However, when the researchers compared their map to the concentrations of dark matter computer models predicted for galaxies bearing the same general characteristics, something was <em>way</em> off. Some small-scale areas of the map had 10 times the amount of lensing — and presumably 10 times the amount of dark matter — than the model predicted.</p><p>"The results of these analyses further demonstrate how observations and numerical simulations go hand in hand," notes one team member, <a href="https://nena12276.wixsite.com/elenarasia" target="_blank">Elena Rasia</a> of the INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Trieste, Italy. Another, <a href="http://adlibitum.oats.inaf.it/borgani/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Stefano Borgani</a> of the Università degli Studi di Trieste, Italy, adds that "with advanced cosmological simulations, we can match the quality of observations analyzed in our paper, permitting detailed comparisons like never before."</p><p>"We have done a lot of testing of the data in this study," Meneghetti says, "and we are sure that this mismatch indicates that some physical ingredient is missing either from the simulations or from our understanding of the nature of dark matter." <a href="https://physics.yale.edu/people/priyamvada-natarajan" target="_blank">Priyamvada Natarajan</a> of Yale University in Connecticut agrees: "There's a feature of the real Universe that we are simply not capturing in our current theoretical models."</p><p>Given that any theory in science lasts only until a better one comes along, Natarajan views the discrepancy as an opportunity, saying, "this could signal a gap in our current understanding of the nature of dark matter and its properties, as these exquisite data have permitted us to probe the detailed distribution of dark matter on the smallest scales."</p><p>At this point, it's unclear exactly what the conflict signifies. Do these smaller areas have unexpectedly high concentrations of dark matter? Or can dark matter, under certain currently unknown conditions, produce a tenfold increase in lensing beyond what we've been expecting, breaking the assumption that more lensing means more dark matter?</p><p>Obviously, the scientific community has barely begun to understand this mystery.</p>
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