Leaders with a sense of humor know how to relieve workplace stress, inspire creativity and enhance productivity.  The most inspirational leaders I’ve served with in the military and corporate sector had a great sense of humor.  They weren’t comics, but they knew how to use well timed laughs to diffuse tension, influence behavior and improve organizational performance.  This week marked the birthdays of three prominent leaders with a funny bone: Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld and Bugs Bunny (his first cartoon appeared in April 1936).  Each led in the following “T3” ways:


  • TEAMWORK: Inclusive, always made others feel welcome
  • TONE: Optimistic. Humble. Tasteful. Patriotic.

Honored to meet Jay when he entertained sailors in 2001 aboard the aircraft carrier USS JOHN C STENNIS in the Pacific

  • TENACITY: Was one of the hardest workers in show business … and the garage with his ~150 vintage autos and motorcycles!


  • TEAMWORK: Built incredible trust and loyalty with those closest to him (George, Kramer, Elaine). Even when they disagreed, the team’s faith and confidence in other kept the group together 
  • TONE: Superb conflict management style. Always strove to find an equitable solution with family (Dad Morty, Mom Helen, Uncle Leo), friends (Frank Costanza, David Puddy, Susan Ross) and foes (Newman, Bania The Hack Comic, The Maestro)
  • TENACITY: In real life, Jerry tirelessly invests time to improve his material: He’s adamant, “Comedy is no joke.” His path over years to be a better comic was to create better jokes … the way to create better jokes was to write and rehearse every day. Every day that he wrote and rehearsed, Jerry put a big red X on that date of his wall calendar. After a few days, he had a chain of X’s and committed to avoid breaking the chain.


  • TEAMWORK: Bugs was generally a loner. I’ve know leaders like that in the Battle Space and Board Room. Even the best of those leaders realize they can’t achieve all goals by themselves. In “Space Jam,” when Bugs needed teammates, he planned with fellow Looney Tunes’ Daffy Duck, Pepe LePew, Sylvester and others to defeat Aliens. When the original plan didn’t work, he admitted, “Eh… I think we might need a little more help,” then recruited Michael Jordan
  • TONE: Poised under pressure. Bugs rarely let Yosemite Sam or the Tasmanian Devil get him agitated … just munched his carrot and cooly carried on
  • TENACITY: Always thought outside the box and experimented with novel ways to outsmart his adversaries, from Elmer Fudd to Marvin the Martian. Whenever Bugs declared, “This Means War!” he meant it, would persevere with purpose and not be denied victory

Compared to a leaders’ other critical strengths such as integrity, courage, empathy and self-awareness, humor may not top the list as THE trait which positively influences others the most.  However, when used in the right circumstances, particularly during times of stress and uncertainty, it becomes a powerful performance multiplier. Here’s to the leaders who take humor seriously!

Rear Admiral Paul Becker, USN (Ret) is a leadership expert.  He is the CEO of The Becker T3 Group, a platform for his motivational and national security keynote speaking. A former Naval Intelligence Officer, he’s successfully led large, diverse, high-performing teams afloat and ashore in peace, crisis and combat.  In 2016, The Naval Intelligence Community established “The Rear Admiral Becker ‘Teamwork, Tone, Tenacity Award for Leadership” in his honor

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