Four Reasons Fun Needs to be Part of your Leadership Training in 2023
While the expression “Time flies when you’re having fun” is true, there is nothing that brings time to a grinding halt faster than a monotonous virtual training experience. Anyone who has watched the minutes tick by during a three-hour workshop would likely agree, in those situations, time rarely flies. Could the reason be an absence of fun? Because while engaging learners is a priority for development professionals, there is a reluctance to say the word “fun” – let alone bring it into leadership development training program for managers.
Why is that? Do we think it will detract from a serious message? Are we afraid of insulting our learners? Are there concerns about how to pull-it-off? Regardless of the reason, not infusing some level of fun into leadership training and development is a missed opportunity.
What Does Fun Bring To Leadership Training?
- Humor can create a sense of comradery. Let’s face it – the stakes can be high when learners are asked to share their leadership challenges or stumbles or when they are asked to practice a new skill. Humor can help establish a tone of friendship and support. It can lower defenses for learners who are reticent about making themselves vulnerable enough to participate.
- Humor can make the content relatable. From an “epic fail” leadership communication to a story about a bungled feedback conversation, humor gives us a way to release the tension of a serious lesson and reminds us that “we’ve all been there.” The relatability of a humorous anecdote can provide an emotional connection to an important point.
- Humor can add variety to a leadership development program and be an important engagement tool. An article published in the Journal of Neuroscience not that long ago, shows that laughing with others released endorphins in our brains which make us feel good1. As employees struggle with burnout and mental health issues, injecting a little humor into the day can be the little boost folks need.
- Humor can be a safe way to bring up sometimes sensitive topics. Shakespeare once said, “There is truth in jest,” and he was onto something. Humor in leadership development can provide a doorway into challenging topics. Have you ever watched Tripp and Tyler’s video of a “Conference Call in Real Time?” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYu_bGbZiiQ) We laugh because the video is funny and because we see reflections of our own real-world experience reflected in the fun. Acknowledging these challenges, through the lens of humor, makes them easier to discuss.
But how to do it? While various research corroborates the belief that humor is universal, that’s different from saying everyone has the same sense of humor. And that’s where things can get tricky. What’s funny to one person has the potential to be offensive to the other. That’s not a reason to abandon the idea, but it is a reason to proceed thoughtfully.
Fun leadership training ideas
- Quirky images – Want to extol the benefits of active listening? Include an image of a child plugging their ears and screaming. Need to talk about work-life balance? Choose a relatable image of someone working on their computer while their cat walks across their desk. Paying attention to image selection and taking the time to find something a little offbeat is time well spent when it results in creating something with visual interest and appeal.
- Carefully sourced videos – Publicly available videos on YouTube, Tik Tok and Instagram can be a treasure trove of humorous video-based content. Use these videos selectively and always connect them to the content. Video usage shouldn’t be gratuitous but, done well, they can entertain and provide a “launching point” for a lively discussion.
- Informal ice breakers – Nothing makes eyes glaze over at-the-start than the agenda slide. So don’t start that way. A low-risk ice breaker can get folks to open up about the simplest of things. Favorite Holiday movie? Prefer a salty or sweet snack? Who would play you in a movie? It’s not a waste-of-a-slide, it’s connection – connection that, established upfront, will pay dividends in curious and interested learners.
- Healthy competition – Healthy competition is another way to inject energy and fun into training. Trying to get folks to identify top ways to communicate in a hybrid environment? Why not make it a contest to see who can list the most? Spoiler alert – in the process, they are learning, sharing, and covering a lot of ground in a few moments of fun.
- A humble and self-deprecating facilitator – If videos and quirky images won’t work in your culture, a leadership development program facilitated by a living, breathing, fallible human being can. Your facilitator doesn’t need to perform a stand-up routine, but facilitators, or guest speakers, who are able to share stories about their leadership successes and, more importantly, their failures can lighten-the-mood. A speaker who is willing to poke a little fun at themselves is a welcome reprieve from the “sage on the stage” monotony.
Leaders have a lot going on so dedicating precious time to learning and development isn’t always met with enthusiasm. When they do carve out the time, why not give them an experience that is both useful and memorable? Important information, skills practice, sharing, couched in a little bit of humor can go a long way in engaging your learners and making the experience and the content stick.