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Leading with Humor


Wouldn’t you agree that the work we do as contractors can literally be life and death? It’s serious business!

I definitely feel this is true.

A plumbing or drain company keeps good water from bad water. Just go online and look up the plague. You’ll see what existed in the world before proper  plumbing and sanitation changed it for the better. And plumbing and drain companies keep these systems functioning the way they must so we can stay alive and avoid illness. Without us, many people would be sick and dying.

A heating and cooling company not just keeps us warm in the winter and cool in the summer (which is very nice). In extreme cases for the young, the elderly, or the infirm, it too can be life and death. It’s taken for granted now because we have heating and cooling here in the USA, but that didn’t always exist. And without well-trained heating and cooling companies it would still not be able to be relied upon the way people do these days. Hey, I live in Arizona… cooling isn’t a convenience… it’s a necessity. And the same can be true about reliable heating in winter in the northern portions of the country. But remember, we “play with fire” as I told my own techs. Plus, we “play” with gas and fuel oil and even high voltage that in the wrong hands, untrained personnel, or even the inattentive tech can become very dangerous.

And electricians literally wrangle lightning and light our homes, power our communications abilities, and, in many homes, it is the “fuel” that provides the heating and cooling too. We take it for granted, but here too a lack of seriousness and attention to detail can cause real damage to life and property.

All of this is serious business.

BUT we can’t be deadly serious from sunup to sundown. We do need to be focused when we’re doing our work in every phase of our business, but we’re human beings, and without a break from it… it will wear you down if there’s no time to lighten up.

Here are just three ways humor helps:

  1. Humor is a great way to break up the times in between when we need our focus to be at its upmost. These breaks actually make us sharper when we need to be.
  2. Humor can also diffuse tense situations between employers and their employees.
  3. Humor can also ease misunderstandings between your company and your customers.

That said, you need to know the difference between humor and sarcasm. And as an ex-New Yorker, sarcasm was the normal way you operated. But sarcasm can also be a passive-aggressive way to say what you really want to say but in what you think is a humorous way. Know that sarcasm tends to escalate situations vs. humor that can lessen the tension.

Also, you need to be local with your humor. What I mean by that is what works in a NYC shop probably doesn’t fly in the Midwest or other parts of the country. Humor tends to be local and cultural.

You, as senior management, set the tone and the culture for appropriate humor at your company. People will follow your lead on what you do in the way of humor and what you will tolerate when it goes too far. It’s key that you know what topics are best to avoid such as sex, race, religion, politics, or picking on fellow employees in a mean and demeaning way. Your job is to keep it from going there.

Yikes! What does that leave to joke about?

Well, here’s what I teach my clients when I’m doing Staffing Power with them and, in particular, how to run the Apprentice to Tech Training Program and even how to run effective weekly meetings:

The only safe humor is to pick on yourself and how young and stupid you may have been when you first started. You can even mix it up by saying, “An ex-employee did this…,” and make it funny and a good lesson they can learn from. NEVER name the ex-employee. Humor is best handled by making yourself the joke. Here’s what is great: when you show them you can laugh at yourself and who you once were, it makes you more approachable as a person and a leader.

Are you able to make fun of a customer?

Yes and no.

No, you can never violate the sex, race, religion, politics aspect, but you can make it about a former customer of whom you never share their identity. The focus is not to ridicule the person who was your customer.

Yes, you can share that we, as people, all have our own “weirdness” or “quirks.” Our real job is to serve whomever we’re in front of to the best of our ability and keep our sense of humor.

That may feel tough at times when it’s you who is getting yelled at.

Here’s what worked for me. I told my dad about a particularly vile and demeaning customer. My dad said to me these wise and funny words, “Son, you get to go home. Think about the person who has to live with them.” It made me laugh, but more importantly it changed my perspective for the better immediately.

And finally, you can have a sense of humor about stuff that goes on. Trust me, many things are way funnier when you look back. One day my brother, Marty, made us bust out laughing in the middle of a painful moment when we were stressed about having just fired someone and wondering how to find a replacement. He said with a straight face, “Don’t worry. We can just hire another of the un-hirables!” Yes, he was kidding… I think. The funny, not-so-funny thing is it made us look at our practice of waiting to hire out of desperation, and it moved us to become proactive when it came to always recruiting and hiring better-and-better staff.

Al Levi teaches contractors how to run their businesses with less stress and more success through his book, seminars, webinars and his exclusive 1-to-1 consulting practice.

 Also check out Al’s latest business adventure as part of Zoom Franchise Company at www.zoomdrain.com/franchise-opportunity. It’s a living example of the power of manuals and more— in action.

More Ways to Become a 7-Power Contractor

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