THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK: “Give me levity, or give me death!”
– Terry Braverman

One of the most revered American leaders personifies the marriage of humor and persistence to triumph over adversity. In his lifetime, he got fired from his job, failed in business, ran for the state legislature and lost, lost a re-election bid for Congress, twice ran for the Senate and lost, and was unsuccessful in an attempt to be nominated for vice president. Despite the misfortunes, periods of extreme depression, and the death of three sons and a childhood sweetheart, he somehow was able to access a sense of humor to give him the courage to carry on. His name: Abraham Lincoln.

During the most dismal moments of the civil war, Lincoln’s sense of the absurd would rear itself to the amazement of his staff. One time he called an emergency meeting of his cabinet to discuss the advances of the Confederate army into the North, and proceeded to recite passages from a book of humor while his staff sat there utterly flabbergasted. When he put the book down, he said, “Gentlemen, why don’t you laugh? If I didn’t laugh I should die, and you need this medicine as much as I do.”

In motivational parlance, Lincoln injected what is called a pattern breaker. This useful tool can uplift the mood, or shake and wake a listless troop of employees on a Monday morning. One way to get the energy flowing in an office is to initiate a group exercise I created, known as “Humor Impact Aerobics.” It’s an orchestrated repertoire of silly arm, leg, and head movements that gets everyone laughing, breathing deeply, and feeling connected as a team.

Bringing laughter and appropriate play into the workplace is the quickest path to building camaraderie and teamwork. There are numerous ideas for contests that can be implemented. A team at one company had everyone bring in photos of themselves when they were babies, and held a “cutest baby” contest. Another company had a “silly hat” contest, while another created a “worst hairdo” day. Pick up some wild props at your local toy store or novelty shop and keep them in your desk. Pull them out when timely to puncture tension and remind others to lighten up. One executive periodically emerges from his office striking a mock authoritarian pose and cracking a bullwhip. Keep in mind that it is important to strike a balance between the task at hand and the need for “social orientation.”

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