humor in leadership

Laughter can be one of the best medicines in psychiatry and leadership, if used correctly.


In discussing the stylistic aspects of leadership, as we did in yesterday’s column, the use of humor was not mentioned. This is not unusual as humor is rarely presented as beneficial to a leader, but if used it is used as an aggressive weapon against an opponent.

However, and perhaps uniquely, Volodymyr Zelensky had an acting background before his election as President of Ukraine. Perhaps his popularity as a comedian helped him get elected. We don’t know how his humor can be used privately these days, as he seems quite serious in his public media appearances.

Humor in psychiatry also seems rarely discussed, nor much used in our organizations, research, and clinical care. Helping others seems like very serious business and humor can often be misinterpreted. Freud believed that humor could be a poor cover and a displacement of aggressive and sexual drives.

Nonetheless, pockets of humor are popping up in unexpected places and via executives lately. As first covered in our June 6, 2022 column, “Is a banana a better phallic symbol than a gun?”, humor is making inroads into the rather serious sport of baseball to reduce the boredom factor.

The leader and developer of the Savannah Bananas, a college summer team, decided to try to make the team more exciting and leverage humor. He still wears a tuxedo and a banana yellow top hat, and he walks 37,900 paces around the stadium. The dancers, the Banana Nanas, are in their late sixties. The cheerleading squad, the Man-Nans, are made up of middle-aged men in poor shape. Currently, they have more TikTok followers than any major league baseball team and are selling out every game. I can’t wait to see them “play”.

Dr. Glaucomflecken, otherwise known as Will Flanary, MD, a young ophthalmologist, is also in the news on TikTok. His brief skits are satires on the weaknesses of our medical specialties, including psychiatry, as well as the social and commercial problems we face in modern medicine.

Recently, as my medical class at Yale celebrated its 50th and 51st graduation anniversaries, the dean told graduates of the current medical class that she was beginning to appreciate the role of humor in medicine. Although humor can be transmitted spontaneously, in an organization it is best considered and carefully controlled for a purpose. Benefits can then include perspective-taking, creativity, associative thinking, and recognizing mistakes as well as a coping mechanism. It is important to get feedback from trusted colleagues on how humor is received. Ideally, psychiatrists should understand the underlying psychodynamic meanings of jokes and humor, and thus respond appropriately.

Who was the first speaker at Yale? None other than Dr. Glaucomflecken. His last piece of advice:

Laugh. Laugh. Tell jokes. Have a sense of humor. Medicine is serious business, but it’s also outrageously funny.

Thinking back to that baseball team, maybe our American Psychiatric Association could form a comparable baseball team, call it “Psychiatry’s Society,” and play a fundraising game against the Savannah Bananas at our next meeting. annual!

Doctor Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specializes in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the unique designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. To create a better world, he advocates for the treatment of mental health problems related to climatic instability, burnout. , Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. He sits on the editorial board of Psychiatric Times™.