How to Lead With Humor To Become A Powerful Tech Leader

May 21, 2022

Vanessa Marcié Founder CEO Leading With Humour gives her tips to use humour to our advantage and to change companies’ DNA.

50inTech Podcast-to-Go : “Tired of sexist jokes in Tech? Learn how to lead with humour”

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Episode # 7 : “How can humour make you a powerful leader?” — Vanessa Marcié Founder CEO Leading With Humour

Hello ! My name is Dr. Vanessa Marcié, I’m the CEO and founder of “Leading With Humour”, a change management consultancy company. I have an MBA from Cambridge Judge Business School where I lead workshops and I did a research on the impact of humour in leadership. That research has been picked up by the Financial Times and published in 2018. With the success of this research, people started to ask me to lead workshops in their company. So I’ve left my job for the City of London in order to dedicate my time to help leaders all over the world to use humour to their advantage and to change companies’ DNA with humour.

I work a lot with financial industries and in tech. Why? Because it’s male-dominated. I have entrepreneurs in my workshop who share stories about how difficult it is for women to be in a male-dominated environment and to support everyday male humour. For example, a web developer in one of my workshops shared that in his company it’s mainly male and the only woman is the HR. And the HR actually left the company because she was tired to hear everyday jokes about the fact that she was a woman. For example, one day she was in the kitchen and one of the guys told her: “ Oh, you found your spot ! A woman should always be in the kitchen”. So examples like that, that’s what people are sharing with me during the workshop.

And what I tell them, I give them 5 tips to use humour.


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First of all, you have to know your audience. That’s something that nobody really does, when they are talking to people, especially when they are using humour. We all have been in a presentation where the boss or the colleague is using like a funny image and it’s falling completely flat because nobody is laughing because it’s not targeted to the right public. If you do public speaking, you know that. But you have to be mindful of who you have in front of you. You have to take information about the people before using humour in order to not hurt anybody who is in your audience.

You have to laugh at yourself. So, I know I said that self defeating humour is an aggressive type of humour. But the higher you are in the hierarchy, the best you can use laughing at yourself because it’s making you human, it’s making you approachable. That’s something that women often use but they use it in the wrong situation. They often try to cover up a tiny mistake using self-defeating humour. For example, I’ve done a presentation or I’m sorry I’m blond or whatever, you know, you are trying to cover up something that men would never spot anyway. So you are making a big fuss of something and you are putting yourself down in front of your peers and your hierarchy when you shouldn’t do that you should just move on.

Be mindful of others. As I said, humour should be kind, humour should be positive, humour should be about gathering people around a subject you can all laugh about together, not laughing at people.

Appear in control. When there is a crisis, the first thing that goes away usually is your sense of humour. So think about it, if you use humour in a difficult situation, that actually shows that you are in control of the situation.

And be ready, which is the most important thing when you are a woman. You have to be ready, you have to have a ready comeback in your pocket that you can use in a difficult situation. We all have been victims or we all have examples of a difficult situation and usually it’s the same joke, the same thing that is coming back over and over again. So you can be prepared, you can actually look online for comedians that have covered the subject and comedians all over the world have covered every possible subject. And you can use one of their jokes, you can adapt it, you can learn it by heart. And you can use it in a situation which is coming back to you.

Or you can build your own material. And what I say when I am in my workshop is that you have, for example, to discuss the matter with friends in a safe environment and you will comeback with something creative and you have to refine it in different environments until it’s perfect. People often have something which is called a signature story. A story that you know is working in every kind of circumstances. It can be something personal, it can be a personal story, usually, that you master and you know everybody’s going to laugh about it. You have to do that with the ready comeback for the difficult situation. You have to build something that you know will work and you can do that only in a safe environment and after taking a risk like, a little innovation. And trying this new material in different environment until you are fully owning it, until you are fully confident and you can fire it to the person who is putting yourself down.


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So, I gave you an example of how to use humour in order to counter-attack difficult jokes. But there is a more positive use of humour and that’s also what I teach in my workshops. It’s how to lead with humour. You can lead with humour, as a woman, using it in order to build cohesive teams and to strengthen relationships. I have a concrete example about that. It’s an engineer, she’s leading a team of engineers for Airbus and she told me that, how she uses humour is very funny because she’s purposefully watching Big Bang Theory in order to have something to say to her engineers in the morning to sparkle a conversation. She’s also looking on internet to find engineer jokes, something that is speaking to the team. And she sends it to them and that’s sparkling conversation and that’s making them laugh and she successfully created a bond within her team of engineers.

So that’s how you can use humour in a very positive way to improve your leadership and to improve the atmosphere within your team and the culture of your company.

Why did I accept the 50inTech invitation? As a woman who built a career in male-dominated industries, I developed a masculine sense of humour and used my sense of humour to be part of the boys’ club and advance my career. In an industry where women are still a minority, support of a strong network is essential. And that is why I accepted the invitation. It is a bold and necessary initiative. And I believe women should help each other, so in the future there will be no male or female leader just leaders without gender.

Everyday I share my knowledge and experience to contribute to achieve this goal with a mission to create a million smiles in the workplace and build gender equity with humour.


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