Are You Havin’ a Laugh at Work?

Authenticity Happiness Respect


Key Point: Businesses and leaders can benefit from a sense of humor. A.J. Jacobs and Peter McGraw are two academics who study humor. Wharton management professor Adam M. Grant recently interviewed Jacobs and McGraw. This blog pulls from that interview. Jacobs is the bestselling author of “Drop Dead Healthy,” “The Year of Living Biblically” and “My Life as an Experiment.” McGraw is a professor at the University of Colorado and co-author of The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny.

McGraw and his co-author went to Tanzania to investigate a laughter epidemic that allegedly happened in the 1960s. They also went to Japan to try to figure out the crazy game shows that are popular on television there. They spent time in the West Bank, a place where many people consider really dark and comedy proof, and found “lots of hilarity in Palestine.” One useful insight is that it they found humor often arises from potentially negative things.

Jacobs has come to understand that a lot of the humorous thinking has parallels to the way we should be thinking in business. “It has a lot to do with creativity: Taking disparate ideas and mashing them together, which I think is a way to [create] great businesses… Chipotle took fast food and healthy food and mashed it together, and they got this super business, which is the same idea as humor. Humor is hard, and you’ve got to come up with a hundred ideas before you get one or two that really work.”

McGraw notes the following: “Wherever possible, the humor should be inclusive, something that we can all laugh about together. As a manager, making fun of yourself is a great way to get things rolling. That’s actually a trick that we learned in Los Angeles when we were hanging out with all these stand-ups. When a stand-up comedian gets on stage, he or she usually makes fun of the thing that’s just peculiar about them. So, when I got back on stage again at the end of the book to prove that we’ve learned something, my first joke was “I spend a lot of time with comedians, and I learned you need to get a laugh right away. Hence, the sweater-vest.”

Having a sense of humor is important at work (and in life). It is a key part of becoming an effective leader and accessible person. It takes observation, practice and the confidence to be vulnerable. Who wants to work with a sour puss or pickle face that takes everything, especially themselves, too seriously? On the other hand a big smile and interesting quip attracts others; we want to be around people who act like that.

Character Moves:

  1. Look for ways to connect things in a way that are surprising and interesting combinations. This recipe can put a smile on people’s craniums. People love to work with people who can tastefully find the humor in every day life. This is less about trying to be a comedian than it is finding ways of observing and commenting on the daily things that happen in life. Almost every day serves up a menu of funny; like the “Dyslexic man who walks into a bra…” Haha!
  2. Find the humor in the negative things. Don’t be insensitive, but put matters in perspective. Some things are not funny and too serious to trivialize. However, most negative things have a humorous underbelly when we can step back and put things in perspective. Anyways… “The universe implodes. No matter…” Haha!
  3. Be inclusive and be able to laugh at yourself: “Hence, the sweater-vest.” People love the authenticity and accessibility of people who are appropriately self-deprecating. False humor that excludes others and/or is mean spirited has no shelf life. It is harmful… “A woman gets on a bus with her baby. The bus driver says: ”Ugh, that’s the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen!” The woman walks to the rear of the bus and sits down, fuming. She says to a man next to her: ‘The driver just insulted me!’ The man says: ‘You go up there and tell him off. Go on, I’ll hold your pet monkey for you.’” This joke comes close to crossing the line but it was picked as one of the funniest ever. I laughed.

Good humor in The Triangle,



Why Make Your Bed Every Morning?

Accountability Personal leadership Transformation


Key Point: We need to learn from organizations like the Navy SEALs. Very few of us have the makeup to become a Navy SEAL. Even for those who do, only a few make it to graduation. Most who make it to “Hell Week” end up ringing the infamous bell to disqualify themselves from continuing. SEAL training is totally intentional. It’s not just about overcoming fierce physical and mental perseverance; it’s about embedding personal leadership skills that impact life or death decisions that are very real in the workplace of special forces units. Fortunately for most of us, we rarely if ever are put into life threatening leadership environments. But what if we applied some of that SEALs’ learning? I would like to highlight some important personal leadership lessons as presented to the University of Texas’ 2014 graduating class. The following is adapted from the commencement address by Adm. William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, at the University of Texas in Austin on May 17:

“1. If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed

2. You can’t change the world alone—you will need some help—and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the goodwill of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.

If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

3. SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.

If you want to change the world, measure people by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

4. Sometimes, no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform, you still end up as a Sugar Cookie. It’s just the way life is sometimes. (The term “Sugar Cookie” refers to the part of SEAL training where candidates fail at a task and end up spending an entire day in a wet uniform covered with sand from head to toe… Hence, Sugar Cookie).

If you want to change the world, get over being a Sugar Cookie and keep moving forward.

5. Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core. (“The circus” refers to some potential SEALs having to do hours of extra physical training after a full day of grueling exercise).

But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circus.

6. It was a dangerous move—seemingly foolish, and fraught with risk. Failure could mean injury and being dropped from the training. Without hesitation, the student slid down the rope, perilously fast. Instead of several minutes, it only took him half that time and by the end of the course he had broken the record. (Referring to an unorthodox move a cadet took to get down an obstacle course… It broke a long standing record).

If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle headfirst.

7. There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them. (The SEALs have to do a night swim through great white shark infested waters).

So, if you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

8. Every SEAL knows that under the keel, at the darkest moment of the mission, is the time when you must be calm, composed—when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear. (Referring to SEALs having to night swim and place a detonating device under a ship’s keel… The darkest moment of the assignment).

9. If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person—Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan named Malala—can change the world by giving people hope.

10. If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud. (The SEALs end up having to survive a night in mud up to their necks, and get through it by singing together).

All you have to do to quit is ring the bell. Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5:00 a.m. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT—and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell.

11. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”

Character Moves:

  1. Become an everyday SEAL and apply McRaven’s lessons: Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up. Live the Character Triangle. 
  2. Recognize that being a SEAL does not end with becoming one. It involves having a framework and continuously practicing at applying it. Every day starts and ends with the small stuff. We not only make our bed… We sleep in it.

Take 20 inspirational minutes to check out Admiral William H. McRaven’s great speech below.

 An everyday SEAL in a The Triangle,



‘Please Fire Me!’

Contribution Management Respect


Key Point: The title of this blog is the “inside voice” of too many people in the workplace. They might not be saying it with words, but they’re yelling this at the top of their lungs every day through their behavior. You know who they are because they’ve likely quit on the job a long time ago, and are just going through the motions. These people will probably never do anything egregious to force a manager to fire them. And they may try to make themselves “necessary” by protecting their own work process. However, they usually do something worse; they barely show up and just make “vanilla pudding” every day. They are often very nice people who others like as a co-worker. Yet are they hungry? Are they on a relentless pursuit to get better and to make things better? Do they share their knowledge and help others develop? Do they connect problems to solutions? Are they self-accountable, respectful and abundant?

When there’s a person on the team who doesn’t fully contribute, it will sub optimize the entire group. When someone is under performing, it is usually a lack of will, focus and/or capability. When it’s capability, it’s often possible to further develop an eager learner if they have a reasonable aptitude for the skill and role required. Focus, and “will,” can be addressed through solid coaching. But there is a reasonable return on coaching investment and when someone quits being “hungry” and stops holding up their end of the bargain to fully contribute, the right thing for all stakeholders is to fire them. As much as a boss may hope that things will work out and resist the idea of having to crush the person’s hopes as well as source of income, firing can be the best thing we can do for someone. Keeping an employee in a job that’s not right for him or her is wasteful and disrespectful to all.

We should never act impulsively, relish firing, overreact emotionally or feel insensitive when it comes to letting someone go. I worked for one person who fired people as a matter of course, primarily to feed a GIANT ego. I’ve also worked for someone who never fired anyone directly in 20 plus years of leadership. Seriously? Neither extreme is very constructive.

At this time of the year, many companies are doing so called “talent reviews” and/or “succession planning.” What are they saying about you? We all fall into one of two categories: We’re moving forward or we’re falling back. If it’s the latter, one day, someone will likely say, “let’s move that person out.” What are you signaling?

Character Moves:

  1. If you’re in a leadership role, determine who, by their behavior, really wants to find a way to leave? Who is just going through the motions? Are you having a crucial conversation with this person? Do they know what message they’re sending? Are you challenging them with a respectful, yet very frank “up or out” discussion?
  2. In your role, what behavior are you demonstrating to make sure your boss fights for you as a valuable contributor? Don’t be lulled into the belief that being “steady Eddy or Jenny” is good enough. As the bar gets raised you may be inadvertently signaling to your boss that you want to be replaced. One day you will, if you aren’t continuously learning, making things better and being a great team member.
  3. When you DO fire someone (because they aren’t contributing relative to the investment in them) treat him or her with the most respect possible. Compensate them generously. DO NOT BE A CHEAPSKATE. Be empathetic and fair while also direct and constructive. Everyone will thank you; even the person you’ve fired.
  4. If you haven’t moved (constructively fired) a reasonable percent of people out of your area each year, you’re likely not being respectful and listening to your team. And unfortunately, seniority by itself is mostly meaningless, unless that experience translates into ever increasing value. No one can rest on what they did in the past. Look around you: Who will be there next year?

Fire in The Character Triangle,



A+ = Authenticity and Abundance

Abundance Authenticity Contribution


Key Point: A mistaken assumption is that if people find out who we really are underneath, they’d find a way to remove themselves from our lives. Perhaps another mistaken assumption is that we should feel only great things when others succeed and we think we’re not as “far along.” However, it is very human and likely that we will feel BOTH insecurity and happiness when someone we know outperforms us at a task relevant to us. Being very honest with ourselves first and then with others, regarding the ups and downs of our human experience, in the right context, often builds deeper connections. That’s why authenticity and abundance go hand-in-hand, driving A+ humanity. Check out studies from a recent HBR blog, that help reinforce these points:

“In 1997, Arthur Aron, a social psychologist and director of the Interpersonal Relationships Lab at Stony Brook University, performed a groundbreaking study . He and his research team paired students who were strangers. The students were given 45 minutes to ask each other a series of questions. Half the pairs were given questions that were factual and shallow (e.g., a favorite holiday or TV show). The other half were given questions that started off as factual but gradually became deeper (e.g., the role of love in their lives, the last time they cried in front of someone else). The final question was, ‘Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find the most disturbing?’

After the 45 minutes, Aron’s team asked the participants to rate how close they felt to their partner. Pairs from the second group formed much deeper bonds. In fact, many of these participants started lasting friendships. In one longer version of the experiment, two participants even got engaged a few months after the study.

Aron’s team also surveyed a broad selection of students not involved with the experiment and asked them to rate how close they felt to the closest person in their life. Aron then compared these scores with the ratings of the study participants who had asked each other the deeper questions. Amazingly, the intensity of their bonds at the end of the experiment rated closer than the closest relationships in the lives of 30 percent of similar students. A 45-minute conversation created a connection that was perceived as closer than the closest connection with someone people known for years.

In his highly cited research, University of Georgia social psychology professor Abraham Tesser found that when someone close to us outperforms us in a task relevant to us, it often threatens our self-esteem. The more relevant the task is, the greater the threat we feel. Dr. Tesser states: ‘In our studies, when we gave people information about someone else’s success who is close to them in an area they’re also trying to be good at, they say they feel proud and behave that way, but, in fact, they weren’t. When we surreptitiously video-recorded them you could see disappointment and negative affect in their face. Their behaviors did not reflect how they said they felt.’”

I’ve spent way too much of my life at the “surface” in relationships, not wanting anyone to know about my “underneath.” I’m practicing being more real. And while I’m obviously (based on the tenets of The Character Triangle) a deep believer of abundant thinking, it is only human to compare oneself to others and still sometimes feel insecure and less than adequate. That does not make us scarcity thinkers… It makes us real.

Character Moves:

  1. Be authentic. No one is very interested in perfect. As individuals we are not a copy of those obnoxious holiday updates where everyone and everything is wonderfully, artificially beautiful. Also, being authentic does not include dying on “every hill” of vulnerability. That behavior can come across as disingenuous too. However we connect much better with others and ourselves when we acknowledge our very real humanity. It keeps us humble and hopeful.
  2. Be abundant by giving honesty to yourself first. Be generous recognizing when other people you compare yourself to, may be achieving more. At the same time, acknowledge that feelings of your own sense of self-disappointment are natural. Use it as motivation to progress and compete with yourself rather than spending any energy on diminishing those people you think are “ahead.” (Whatever that means; usually a story we make up in our ego driven minds). In almost all those cases that other person is focused more on their own insecurities and not on bettering you.
  3. Most importantly, invest in an intentionally personal, below the mundane, conversation with someone you care for. This requires your vulnerability and openness. The research shows your relationship will likely become much closer. 

A+ in the Triangle,



Wisdom Before and Now

Authenticity Happiness


Key Point: Part of the inspiration for my book, The Character Triangle, came from self reflective lessons shared by the elderly and dying. Bronnie Ware is a palliative care nurse who spent three to 12 weeks with the dying. She and her patients learned a lot from their journey to death together. “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.” Please… Please learn from these themes that Bonnie so wonderfully captured. Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware and shared in a Huffington Post article:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”

Note: This same lesson is connected to the Character Triangle (CT) value of SELF ACCOUNTABILITY. The concept of “do it now and avoid blame” is completely aligned with this. In most cases, following your dreams is based on choices YOU make. Please don’t wait. What dreams do you want to leave to another life? What choices do you have to pursue those dreams now? 

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

Note: The operative lesson is living “lives on a treadmill of work existence.” Ideally, work is more than a treadmill. As I’ve often written, work feels better and different when it is at an intersection between what we like to do, what we’re good at, and the degree we add value desired by others. How are you doing at that?

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

Note: The RESPECT aspect of CT includes having the ability to be self-aware and conduct crucial conversations with others. Bitterness and resentment is disrespectful; especially to yourself. Why would you put other’s and your health at risk by avoiding the conversations we need to have to move forward? We can’t control how people respond to our feelings, but we can control the courage to express them.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

NOTE: ABUNDANCE, the other element of the CT is about the act of giving and generosity. This is mostly about giving of yourself to others without condition. And genuine, authentic generosity facilitates love and relationships to flourish. The people we deeply love stay close.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

Note: Wow… “Many did realize until the end that happiness is a choice.” Why would people add a “when” to choose happiness? When they retire? When they are skinnier? When they are richer? When they are affirmed and appreciated? When… When… When… We some wait for somebody else you can’t control to do something, or something you can control to happen without you doing anything about it. What a waste.

Character Moves:

  1. Step towards and honor at least some of your dreams. Put fear and whatever everyone thinks behind you. Work at and do what you make rewarding. Be self-aware and express your feelings. Give to and love yourself and others. Choose happiness now not “when.”
  2. Apply The Character Triangle… It will help make No. 1 above more attainable and that palliative time more gratifying.
  3. Remember that regardless of how well each of us does on our journey, that Ware’s final learning is most important of all: “People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.” You and I will find our peace at the end too. We won’t be perfect so what the heck? Let’s choose to have fewer regrets and more hoorays!

Peace in The Triangle,



Mothers and Leaders Always Eat Last!

Accountability Books Gratitude


Key Point: Be present and for goodness sake… EAT LAST! Our actions define what we really believe, but NOT every single time. If we are consistent in connecting our lips and feet, we usually have positive currency saved up in our integrity “bank account.” So when we screw up and occasionally (hopefully rarely) behave out of character, there is usually room for forgiveness.

Last week we had about 40 leaders watching a webcast on leadership. One of the speakers was Simon Sinek. (More on that later). I had a brutal schedule that day, running back to back meetings, preparing for upcoming Board of Directors and executive sessions, and had little time to devote to the webcast. The person organizing the event works in my group and asked if I could pop in and say a few words. As Chief People Officer, I wanted to do that and promised to sneak in whenever I could shave off other time sensitive commitments. I walked in just before lunch. All attendees were facing the big screen webcast. Lunch was all laid out in the back of the room but none of the participants had par taken yet. I stood there looking at the food (honestly, a light was blinking in the back of my mind saying… “Don’t do this. You never do this, Lorne. You always make sure others eat first, especially when you’re the host or leader”). However, I rationalized that there was way more food than the group could consume and it made perfect sense if I quietly ate before the crowd lined up at the buffet, and then I would say my piece as they ate, and I’d run back into my meeting schedule. This made practical sense. Right? Suddenly, I saw them… Copies of Sinek’s new book sitting on the back table. The title of the book is: LEADERS EAT LAST. Oh, holy $#@$!! What the heck am I doing? It wasn’t the feeling of getting “caught;” it was knowing that I was stepping out of my triangle, away from my own value zone.

Let me transition from Simon Sinek to Kevin Durant, voted the Most Valuable Player in the National Basketball Association. His acceptance speech last week is already noted as one of the best sports orations ever. I hope you make time to watch it on the attached video.

The New Yorker reported on it exceptionally and I’d like to share part of the article: 

“Unlike the aggressive, competitive, and sometimes vicious player whom we watch on the court, Durant was open, vulnerable, emotionally brave, and sincere. He reminded everyone not only of his own humanity but also of that of his teammates. They joined him onstage, and he took the time to address each of them, often sharing deeply personal stories. Many were fighting tears, too. This was just an acceptance speech for a league award, not something like the State of the Union, and so the theatrics were a little over the top, but moving nevertheless—like a wedding speech that goes on for way too long but which you never want to end. He spoke at length about Russell Westbrook. He told him that he loved him, and it didn’t seem like mere jock hyperbole. Durant mentioned that the team’s equipment guy had given him a hug and said, ‘This is my first M.V.P.’

Yet Durant’s most memorable remarks, the kind of thrilling moment that indeed will be remembered in history, came when he spoke about his family. He told his brother, step-brother, and father that he loved them, and then he spoke to his mother, Wanda:

The odds were stacked against us. Single parent with two boys by the time you were twenty-one years old. Everybody told us we weren’t supposed to be here. We moved from apartment to apartment by ourselves. One of the best memories I had was when we moved into our first apartment. No bed, no furniture, and we just all sat in the living room and just hugged each other. We thought we’d made it.

Durant told his mother, ‘We weren’t supposed to be here. You made us believe. You kept us off the street. You put clothes on our backs. Food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You’re the real M.V.P.’ The N.B.A. should broadcast Durant’s speech this Mother’s Day, and on every one after it. Even the most jaded SuperSonics fan would have to grant that the moment was not only a sports dream but also the American dream come to life. Talk about making it.”

So here are examples of leadership at its most simple, purest and yet finest way. The armed service leaders who inspired Sinek’s book title and who always make sure the troops eat first… The MVP who acknowledges every team member first before acceptance and then his family… And finally, the mother who makes sure her kids eat first and is willing to go hungry.

As for the leader writing this blog and the opening story… I was embarrassed with my hopefully uncharacteristic self-focus. I took my full plate to the front of the group, hit myself playfully over the head with Sinek’s book, and explained that I was NOT a proponent of Leaders Eat FIRST. There was much laughter about it. I apologized, left my food on the plate, said my words, and then sheepishly ate later after people were through the food line. I hope they understood and forgave me.

Character Moves:

  1. As a leader, be very aware of the small/big things that define your leadership beliefs, and please… Eat last. Put your team first.
  2. When you screw up, admit it and get back to eating last… Aim to unconsciously make it a way of life.
  3. Care for and love every teammate, including the ones that you occasionally go toe-to-toe with. You need them and they need all of you.
  4. Always, not just on Mothers Day, thank and hug your first leader…Your mom. She always ate last.

Eating Last in The Triangle,