So This Leader Walks Into a Bar: Leadership Lessons From Stand-Up Comedy

Leaders can gain leadership knowledge in all kinds of unexpected places and through a variety of experiences.

Previously, I’ve posted about two leaders who’ve improved their leadership skills–and their results–by pursuing their passions, one through ballroom dancing and the other through “showing” horses.

Steve Cody,  founding partner of PR firm Peppercom who blogs as The Repman has honed his leadership skills by pursuing what may first appear to be an unlikely passion: becoming a stand-up comic.

Cody claims there are five leadership lessons he’s learned from practicing stand-up:

  1. Get Over Yourself!: Stand-up reinforces the importance of not taking yourself too seriously. And the less seriously you take yourself, the more credibility you gain as a leader, says Cody.
  2. Humor is Magnetic: Cody believes that humor is an incredibly powerful leadership tool, because in good times and especially in bad, followers are attracted to leaders who send out a confident vibe that says “If we stick together, we will get through these  dark moments.”  A leader who’s willing to laugh at the roughest times demonstrates enormous confidence, and that’s contagious.
  3. It’s Not Just What You Say, But How You Say It:  Practicing comedy heightens one’s awareness of  non-verbal cues,  both what you’re signaling and what your audience is sending you. This is a critical skill for leaders and managers, when meeting with their teams, when speaking with clients and perhaps most of all, in new business presentations.
  4. Timing is Everything:  Comedians, presenters and sales people know that timing plays an important role in closing the sale, convincing and audience and in getting the laugh. Cody says that the give-and-take with an audience that occurs in stand-up allows its practitioners to know how and when to fill a pregnant pause, and how to use humor to ease tension.
  5. Comedy Builds Courage:  According to Cody, the experience of regularly facing an audience–many of whom are not in the mood to laugh–and actually surviving, helps one build a thicker skin and a deep well of bravery. Cody, who has spoken and blogged about the importance  of leaders putting on a happy face, indicates it’s much easier to do so when you’ve taken steps to increase your courage and confidence.

Earlier this year, during the depths of the economic doldrums, Steve and co-founding partner Ed Moed decided they needed to do something to lift the agency’s spirits, maximize the free time that accompanied the slowdown,  and increase the agency’s win rate.

It will come as no surprise that they trained a number of their staff in stand-up comedy. Among the results: enhanced morale, increased presentation skills and perhaps most important, a slew of new business wins.

Could you benefit from participating in stand-up comedy? Would taking yourself less seriously, but building your courage and exuding more confidence help you attract followers? Would fine-tuning your timing and enhancing your reading of non-verbal cues help to improve your win rate? What other passions are you pursuing that help make you a better leader?

Bookmark So This Leader Walks Into a Bar: Leadership Lessons From Stand-Up Comedy

Ken Jacobs is the principal of
Jacobs Communications Consulting, which helps organizations grow business and develop staff.
He can be reached at

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8 responses to “So This Leader Walks Into a Bar: Leadership Lessons From Stand-Up Comedy

  1. I absolutely agree. I am funny and it comes out in my sessions for coaching and in my therapy office. I feel this is so important to what I have to say and what I have to teach and how I bond with clients.

    It’s also important that my clients learn how to see what’s funny and express it in life.

    Wendy allen, Ph.D


  2. A good rib hurting laugh is good for the soul. Followers are watching leaders reactions to the challenges we have and will continue to face over the next few years. As I heard we are no longer in Kansas.

    This leaves us to work/lead smarter and enjoy the life that we make for ourselves as well as lead our followers to the good place to be. : < )

    No one really listens or learns if they are so stressed over the daily routine of life. Relax, smile and how about a funny story. Now you will hear a everyone let out that wonderful sound of relief, laugher.


  3. Great post! I love the analogy. Its important to attach leadership to familiar things, especially when we are trying to explain it. Kudos!


  4. Wendy, Frann and Caroline:
    I’ve been remiss in not thanking you for your comments. I so appreciate your doing so.


  5. Humour is always an asset in the workplace. The hours pass faster and the work is more enjoyable. Thanks for this post.


  6. When I became a manager they said who is this comedian …. well they’re not laughing now!


    • Andrew, I do hope that you get your “followers” to laugh from time to time. It’s a great way to foster a sense of teamwork. I’ve always believed in the old adage, “We take our work seriously, but not ourselves”
      On a separate note, hope it’s OK to tell you I’m now blogging on leadership and a whole lot more at



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