Leading with “Passion Power” ™: A Four “P” Interactive Model for Expanding Personal Energy, Professional Creativity and Organizational Synergy – Part I

Awhile back, preparing for a talk on “Becoming a Dynamic and Engaging Speaker,” I asked myself a fundamental question: what are the essential qualities that I bring to a program? More specifically, how can a program and an audience become more FIT, that is, how can I help people have “Fun” while engaging with exercises and ideas that are “Interactive” and “Thought-Provoking?” Two polar dimensions quickly jumped out: as a presenter I want to be both thoughtful and emotive and also serious and humorous. The first polar pairing represented the information processing style or lens one employs to survey and evaluate experience, that is, being “cognitive” and/or “affective.” (What I call using a head and/or heart “mode.”) The second pairing reflected the “mood” brought to an experience or the perspective that results from engagement, that is, having a sense of “gravitas” (an attitude of weight and depth) and/or a capacity for “comedia” (lighthearted enlightenment). Might we call this serious-humorous pairing your moodus operandi? Surely the model’s dimensional pairings have reciprocal influence. Just as information processing may color or alter a mood state, mood operates on data selection, interpretation, decision-making and action taking.

Let me note that readings in Eastern philosophy and Jungian psychology have influenced this interest in the energizing and creative potential of seemingly dichotomous personality pairings. As depicted by the well-known Yin-Yang symbol, opposites or contradictory energy ultimately flow into one another revealing not division but paradoxical union. And the pioneering psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, saw psychic conflict as the underpinning of personality. Jung extolled reconciling or at least consciously grappling with our oppositional natures. For example, Jung believed that integrating feminine energy in the male and masculine energy in the female and understanding how the often unconscious depths of the “shadow” influence our surface “persona” were essential for authentic individuation and psychological wholeness.

So with paradoxical and psychological tension on the brain…Aha! I had the makings of a 2x2 matrix model, in Jungian terms a vessel, or a visual-verbal framework for combining and transforming seeming opposition. Relating the two polar dimensions, which I called “Cognitive – Affective” and “Gravitas – Comedia,” yielded four interactive “mode-mood” pairs that generated four substance and style presentational concepts:
1) ”cognitive-gravitas” … being “Purposeful”
2) ”cognitive-comedia” … being “Provocative”
3) ”affective-gravitas” … being “Passionate”
4) ”affective-comedia” … being “Playful”

From “Powerful Presentation” to “Passion Power”: The Four “P” Model

Deep – “Light” Mood

Head – Heart Mode Gravitas Comedia
Cognitive Purposeful Provocative
Affective Passionate Playful

Initially, these concepts comprised “The Four ‘P’s of Powerful Presentation.” However, based on participant feedback and my own development as a speaker and workshop leader, I sensed that the Four “P”s had a wider range of application. Let me explain. Over time, my confidence and craft have evolved and been honed by leading programs on a variety of subjects – for example, stress and anger management, creative change, conflict resolution and team building as well as public speaking. I’ve become a high energy, if not somewhat hypomanic speaker, seemingly a couple of standard deviations from the usual educational platform persona. I definitely like keeping audiences on the edge of their seats…wondering what comes next. And as a “psychohumorist” ™, content may quickly swing between the “purposeful” and the “playful,” if not the sublime and the ridiculous. (Of course, after noting my self-defining “psychohumorist” label, I let the audience decide, “Where the emphasis on that word should go.”)

At some point, I realized that people were not simply getting into the stimulating ideas and engaging exercises; they did not just get energized and have fun. Many participants wanted more. They wanted to know: a) how they could generate this uncommon energy and style for themselves, b) how they could become more powerful communicators and motivators as well as educators and trainers, and c) how they could discover their “passion” and effectively bring a renewed sense of “purpose,” “play” and stronger “performance” to their worlds. And slowly I began to grasp the obvious: the Four “P” Model had implications that went beyond becoming a dynamic presenter or educator. Clearly, I was being seen as a role model and an inspiring figure. And hence, the title of this article, which is the first of a three-part series: “Leading with ‘Passion Power’: A Four ‘P’ Interactive Model for Expanding Personal Energy, Professional Creativity and Organizational Synergy.”

An Operational Overview of “Passion Power”

Here are “Four Form and Function Characteristics of the ‘Passion Power’ Model”:

1. Verbal-Visual Framework for Holism and Harmonies. To summarize, the Four “P” Model provides a multidimensional framework for understanding the interactive relationship between “cognitive-affective” mode and “gravitas-comedia” mood. An examination of the evocative concepts will illustrate how grappling with these oppositional qualities expands and enriches both individual and group energy. In addition, the model’s verbal-visual structure illustrates the real learning and leading challenge: it is not sufficient to simply demonstrate a capacity for exercising the Four “P” psycho-communicational traits and talents, tools and techniques separately or sequentially. No, the real test is being able to purposefully play with and imaginatively blend these “emotionally intelligent” and performance-motivational attitudes, aptitudes and actions for an uncommon synergistic effect.

When a person or a team can bring a “Purposeful-Provocative-Passionate-Playful” substance and style I believe there is greater potential for being both creatively compelling and collaborative. Think of the stirring harmony of a string quartet (while still allowing for solo opportunities) as well as the improvisational riffs and unexpected discoveries when jazz musicians jam away. This is a matrix for performing and innovating with “Passion Power.” (Worth noting, a friend in the product design field believes these four qualities are often found in imaginative and popular products and inventive architectural structures as well as in compelling fashion designs and other types of creation.)

2. The Role Model’s Model. Infused with “Passion Power,” this integrated individual – whether a formal or an informal leader – often becomes a natural role model. Fervent, fun and flexibly focused energy when combined with psychological insight and engaging communicational skills frequently inspires quality performance. Returning to our musical mindset, these dynamic models and motivators become “orchestra leaders” helping bring out the best music of individuals and teams within their sphere of interaction and influence.

A man of letters and a woman of science capture the inspirational value of “Passion Power,” especially as it relates to leadership. Francois La Rouchefoucald, the 17th century French classical writer, and Kay Redfield Jamison, Johns Hopkins University psychologist and acclaimed author, both believe the transmission of passionate energy and ideas stirs hearts and minds. For La Rouchefoucauld (quoted in Jamison’s Exuberance: The Passion For Life, Random House, 2004), “Passions are the only orators which always persuade. They are like an act of nature, the rules of which are infallible; and the simplest man who has some passion persuades better than the most eloquent who has none.” Jamison, meanwhile, underscores a dynamic commander’s ability to unite a divided or dispirited group, organization or nation: “In times of adversity, inspired leadership offers energy and hope where little or none exist, gives a belief in the future to those who have lost it, and provides a unifying spirit to a splintered populace.” Iconic figures, such as Lincoln and Churchill, immediately come to mind. Each was capable of being “Purposeful-Provocative-Passionate-Playful” even during the darkest times (despite or maybe because of a predisposition to melancholia as well as an ability to transcend personal suffering. And interestingly, as will be explored in Part II of this series, the Latin root for the word “passion” means “suffering.”)

3. A Multifaceted Motivational Paradigm. In conversation, a number of supervisors and managers have highlighted the difference between the Four “P” multifaceted matrix and many traditional management programs. The latter tend to focus on goal-orientation and “emotional communication” (i.e., how to become “high task and high touch”). In contrast, the Four “P” Model for these same leaders provides an uncommon, “mind stretching” way of thinking about dynamic self-presentation. It also has implications for powerfully, playfully and sensitively connecting with and guiding others. As previously noted, the source of “Passion Power” is the pairing of robust cognitive-emotional energy and a wide ranging “moodus operandi.” This basic yet complex paradigm challenges individuals as well as team members to engage people and problems using a truly diverse yet integrated mind and mood set as well as a flexible communicational and motivational skill set.

4. Dimensional Limits and Conceptual Focus, Structural Connection and Semantic Freedom. There is conceptual and operational value in working with a 2x2 matrix model. This “four-types” model distills a seemingly endless array of personality, performance and leadership factors or variables into two fundamental polar dimensions: “Cognitive” – “Affective” and “Gravitas” – “Comedia.” And the interaction of the information processing mode and the “moodus operandi” perspective yields four “P”-words of greater specificity. While invoking meaning on their face (you likely have a definition or preconceived notion regarding these terms), the model’s words still retain a protean, if not poetic, suggestibility. That is, in this learning and leading model, “Purposeful,” “Provocative,” “Passionate” and “Playful” become ideas and tools having objective, subjective and even imaginative conceptual connotation and practical application. And within a 2x2 grid, while the words appear in separate boxes, the four cells share adjoining borders and a common nexus point. This visual-verbal structure suggests that the Four “P” terms have individual identity yet also interrelate and potentially infuse one another with a greater breadth and depth of meaning. (For example, have you ever been “purposefully playful?”) One can also imagine how conceptual interaction may increase the model’s value as a performance and power tool. Of course, this tool’s motivational mantra: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

Closing Transition

Based on live audience field-testing, I believe the matrix-model will enable you to differentiate and envision the abstract concept of “Passion Power. This “elegantly simple” model should help you grasp and apply a dynamic and robust concept, even one that tends to be multi-faceted and, upon first encounter, may seem difficult to pin down.

To begin generating that conceptual handle and to whet your appetite for Part II, consider these synonyms and associations to the Four “P”s. Do they challenge any preconceptions?
PurposefulGoal-OrientedIntentionMeaningFlexible FocusDrive & DisciplineProductiveDeterminedIntensity AmbitionAnalyticalTheory & ApplicationUnderstanding ProvocativeChallengingStimulatingSurprisingUnconventionalImaginativeRisk-TakingFar-sightedVisionaryInspiringControversialVexingParadox & Wit PassionateAnimatedCommittedCaring & AdoringMotivatedDedicated ResoluteJoy & SufferingEnergetic & ExcitedAuthenticCreative & VisionaryAggressiveSpirited PlayfulFull of Fun & LifeImaginativeGood naturedEngagingSpontaneousFlexibleIrreverentMischievousJoyful & ExuberantOutrageousCreativeHumorous

We’ve come to a natural resting point. Part II will provide a more in-depth examination of the individual Four “P” concepts. Don’t be surprised if some of the meanings or associations prove “out of the box.” And with the aid of illustrative case vignettes and exercises you will discover how energy, creativity and team synergy are ignited and channeled when individuals and groups are encouraged to be “Purposeful-Provocative-Passionate-Playful.” Finally, Part III will use the Four “P” Model as a jumping off point for becoming not just a leader with “Passion Power” but a “Motivational Humorist” as well.

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, “The Stress Doc” ™, is a keynote and kickoff speaker, training/OD & team building consultant, psychotherapist and “Motivational Humorist.” He is the author Practice Safe Stress: Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression and The Four Faces of Anger: Transforming Anger, Rage, and Conflict into Inspiring Attitude & Behavior. The Doc is AOL’s “Online Psychohumorist” ™ and pioneer of a USA Today Online “HotSite” – www.stressdoc.com – recognized as a “workplace resource” by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc’s speaking and training programs, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-946-0865.

Four “P” Principles for Leading with “Passion Power” ™:
Being “Purposeful-Provocative-Passionate-Playful” – Part II

Part I of this three-part series, “A Four “P” Interactive Model for Expanding Personal Energy, Professional Creativity and Organizational Synergy,” introduced the “Passion Power” matrix-model. The Four “P” Model provides a verbal-visual framework for understanding the working relationship between a leader’s cognitive mode and motivational mood including how mode and mood affect a capacity for being strategic and empathic. The 2x2 interaction of “Cognitive-Affective” (Informational Mode) and “Gravitas-Comedia” (Motivational Mood) yields four concepts: “Purposeful-Provocative-Passionate-Playful.” A leader’s ability to be Four “P” also has a powerful impact on team energy and collaboration. Collectively, these mode-mood and Four “P” dynamics are the foundation of “Leading with Passion Power.”

Each “P” term of the matrix will be highlighted by: a) examining a key definition or synonym, b) using obvious and subtle word associations or quotations, and/or c) applied case illustration. Hopefully, this will put conceptual flesh on the Four “P” skeletal system. (Or, if a vegan, add meaningful fiber to the same.) The terms inside the matrix cells or boxes are familiar, yet some of their meanings or associations may prove “out of the box” – surprising and, hopefully, both enlightening and invigorating. Grappling with these mind-mood action states – their psycho-motivational essence and applied potential – means expanding your “personal energy, professional creativity and organizational synergy.”

Box 1. Cognitive – Gravitas = “Purposeful”

1. Being Purposeful. For me, when thinking about “leadership,” being “Purposeful” involves both motivational intention and focused action along with the meaning surrounding intention and intervention. For example, regarding a particular experience, what are your short-term/long-term or micro/macro objectives and behaviors? Next, what is the psychosocial and cultural symbolism of these same goals and action steps as well as their practical significance? To better understand the importance of these “purposeful” questions and to place them in a richer context, consider these key leadership dynamics:

a. Breadth and Depth. A purposeful leader enables individuals to examine the parts (for example, members of a group) and assess how these parts or people – their roles and relations – interact to form a whole or a team. That is, such a leader is able to see the mutual influence of trees and forest. He or she recognizes and works with the motives and methods of both parties – team motivator and team member. The individual who possesses and shares genuine “understanding” of the head and the heart for many “helps experience make sense” (to play on an eloquent Bayer Aspirin advertising slogan). In addition, the purposeful articulation of the personal experience of a leader or a speaker is often a prime source for audience learning and inspiration (i.e., the modeling effect), intimate connection and the nascent development of trust.

b. Mission-Motivated vs. Messianic. Of course, some leaders are less into promoting down to earth or empathic objectives and strategic collaboration and more into selling a lofty or life-changing vision, a grandiloquent revelation or mission-ary statement that may be more like a sense of purpose on steroids. Alas, there’s often a fine line between vision and hallucination. (And believe me I’ve tripped over that line and fell hard on my derriere numerous times. Fortunately, I believe there is a correlation between having a hard head and a hard butt. And another silver lining: hard-earned humility often lessens the likelihood of becoming a visionary butt-head!)

c. Responsive to Feedback. In fact, the savviest leaders are not blinded by their ego or egoals, i.e., having goals that are designed and driven more by pride and egotism than by openness and productive opportunism. Purposeful leaders create learning and sharing structures and processes that evolve through time, error and consequent experience. These individuals obtain information and ideas by asking questions and have a history of responsiveness to audience or team member feedback. The instructional and interactive objectives and plans of a dynamic leader or manager are often significantly modified during the course of a project, in the middle of a program or even as an action sequence is unfolding. Evaluation does not only come after the fact. Might we say that paradox is at the heart of “evolutionary purpose” – a capacity for “flexible intention?”

Here are two quotations illuminating higher order “Purpose” through a seemingly paradoxical perspective that encourages daring and humility along with trial and error learning; each also values means and end. The first is from a law firm executive; the second is a Stress Doc maxim:

1) Strive high and embrace failure. For the head of a law firm, no matter the project, his goal was a 100% success rate, yet he understood this ideal was frequently elusive. His mantra exalted concerted effort and bold persistence along with learning from mistakes over the illusion of perfection; battle-tested insight was prized over “one right way” shortcuts and seductive yet short-lived control.

2) I don’t know where I’m going…I just think I know how to get there. This aphorism suggests that for achieving an important goal or reaching a key destination, there is value in meandering purposefully. That is, new insight or opportunity for learning and discovery may require “letting go” of the familiar or getting off the beaten path and taking time for exploration. Of course, this mindset requires a tolerance for some uncertainty and a good deal of patience, as well as (men…pay attention here) knowing when to ask for directions.

And Jonas Salk would likely agree, especially supporting the notion that the journey is often as vital as the destination. And he embraced determination and imperfection. The famed mid-20th century scientific pioneer believed that, “Evolution is about getting up one more time than you fall down, being courageous one more time than you are fearful, and being trusting just one more time than you are anxious.”

Finally, these quotes do not simply illustrate “evolutionary purpose”; they illuminate the distinction between having knowledge and possessing heartfelt understanding if not hard-earned wisdom.

An Exercise in Being Purposeful and Playful

Of course, such purposeful understanding is not only built through hard work. It can also be experienced through a form of play that allows participants to generate some initial chaos out of order and then achieve some creative order out of chaos. Let me illustrate. My most popular workshop exercise places participants (usually employees and managers) in small and diverse teams, e.g., members of different departments, people of varying experience levels, age, race and gender, etc. Within ten minutes, the teams are challenged to discuss and list the sources of stress and conflict in their daily workplace operations. Using the same time frame, the members now have to come up with a unified group picture – a visual metaphor – that captures the individual stress perspectives as a coherent theme or story. (And invariably, many are either anxious or perplexed at the idea of visually capturing individual stress issues as a unified visual image, i.e., this is the “chaos”-inducing stage of the exercise.)

The purpose of the exercise goes beyond giving people a chance to vent. Actually, the exercise challenges people to transform their tension and frustration into creative expression and team collaboration. During “show and tell,” people are always surprised by the imaginative images, e.g., a dinosaur stalking a plant as workers scatter in fear while their CEO is distracted by a circling plane (flying being a near daily choice of escape from business problems and his own burnout). Participants are also surprised and reassured that the pictures usually reveal common themes of frustration or concern. Individuals and departments are not alone; dysfunctional or isolated departmental silos perhaps can be reorganized or, at least, be reconnected. (Remember, misery doesn’t just like company…it especially seeks miserable company. ;-)

However, there are three other strategic purposes to this exercise that go beyond psychological venting, shared laughter and team building:
a. Strengthen Organizational Culture. First, the exercise speaks to the ever-present yet often background issue of organizational culture, perceived safety and degree of open communication. When employees see that management allows them an opportunity to blow off steam (in a real yet non-malicious and creative manner) and that their leaders value the feedback, the usual result is an increase of trust. (Of course, I might initially coach and coax management toward this state of enlightened leadership.) The exercise strengthens ”we are all in the same boat” camaraderie and a sense of community.
b. Lay Foundation for Future Problem-Solving. The exercise also allows separate teams and the group as a whole to generate problem-solving strategies based on issues identified and illustrated in the aforementioned team pictures. And these problem-solving lists are turned over to management (or, even better, to a management-employee “save the retreat” matrix team) for future strategic consideration.
c. Make All Part of the Show. And finally, by having teams engage in creative design and large group “show and tell,” that is, enabling others to become the show, I’ve become an “orchestra leader.” My motivational role and purpose is to help others bring out their best music and then have participants receive kudos from their colleagues. (And I truly believe we all have an inner six-year old who wants to hold up a drawing and fairly shout, “Hey mom…look what I did!”)

Box 2. Cognitive – Comedia = “Provocative”

1. Being Provocative. What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you read the word “provocative?” Is it someone who is sensually enticing or, perhaps, someone who is intentionally irritating? Reasonable responses, but let’s look at the half full side of this semantic equation. Did you know that “provocative” is derived from the French word provocare – “to call forth”? Certainly a competent leader or educator wants to stimulate and draw out, confront and excite a variety of thoughts and emotions, motives and actions. He or she wants to “arouse curiosity” if not generate “discussion or controversy” amongst the audience members. Such a leader believes in harnessing the “Five Provocative or Arousing ‘A’s”:
a) Attention – awakening an audience, that is, quickly getting people to “stop, look and listen”
b) Anticipation – having participants or group members both engaged in the present and starting to wonder, “What’s next?” or “Where is this leader headed?” while having the audience on the edge of their seats
c) Animation – stirring people’s juices and hopes or evoking tears of grief and laughter, challenging conventional beliefs, firing the imagination and motivating a sense of adventure as well as a desire to pursue a common (team-or community-oriented) and uncommon (demanding, novel or original) mission. At another level, the root word of “animation” also comes into play. A provocative leader attempts to connect with a person’s “anima,” his or her more genuine Self and not just with the surface “persona”
d) Activation – both individually and in groups, providing participants with the training and tools for generating plans and for insuring that action steps are taken to identify common goals, collaboratively and creatively solving problems, reaching objectives and pursuing dreams
e) Actualization – when individuals and groups on a consistent basis are tapping into their deeper essence, energy and spirit in order to evolve in a more holistic manner and to engage creatively with their social and material environment, then a process of self-actualization is underway.

Clearly, the provocative leader or motivator challenges people to expand their perceptions and deepen their insights, to make surprising connections, and to “think outside the box.” A positive provocateur is not afraid to generate tension and use controversy as a motivational tool, especially to excite thought and movement “beyond one’s comfort zone.” For example, the provocative tool of choice for the esteemed 20th century pragmatic philosopher, John Dewey, was “conflict.” The founder of American public education declared:

Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It
shocks us out of sheep-like passivity. It instigates to invention and sets us at
noting and contriving. Conflict is the sine qua non of reflection and ingenuity.

From Conflict and Contradiction to Quick and Clever

And this creative notion of conflict joins forces with the mode-mood pairing of “Cognitive” and “Comedia” in a surprising medium – a “Provocative” communicational technique called “wit.” Now I’m not claiming that to be a Four “P” leader one must be an Oscar Wilde-like wit or a wordsmith evoking gales of laughter from an audience. (Though I do believe people are often more open to a serious message that is gift-wrapped with humor.) For this model, wit relates to seeing and creating uncommon cognitive possibilities and conceptual pairings. More specifically, wit is “the quick apprehension and apt expression of the connection of analogous properties (that are) seemingly unlike.” Consider this playful example, from the comparative punch line in one of my “Shrink Raps” ™ (a contradictory witticism in its own right):

The boss makes demands yet gives little control
So you pray on chocolate and wish life were dull
But office desk’s a mess, often skipping meals
Inside your car looks like a pocketbook on wheels!

Linking the messy insides of a car and a pocketbook is a witty comparison. Wit cleverly relates unexpected ideas, images and patterns. In addition, especially for our purposes, wit integrates the seemingly contradictory, as in differentiating and then transforming the apparent oppositional qualities “Cognitive-Affective” and “Gravitas-Comedia” into a unified “Passion Power” model.

Interface of Wit and Wisdom

Actually, Mark Twain, the esteemed man of letters, captures this broad cognitive and comedic, surprising and paradoxical essence of wit. Twain ingeniously observed: Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation. However, being paradoxical or incongruous does not only fuel the provocative and the playful. Grappling effectively with conflict and seeming contradiction may be essential for intelligent and wise leadership. Consider this quote by the esteemed (and certainly conflicted) 20th century novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald, an observation that has been echoed by many in the arts and sciences. (And with the Four “P” Model in mind, I have substituted the word “leader” for “intellect.”)

The test of a first rate [leader] is the capacity to hold two opposed ideas in the
mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. For example, one
should see things as hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.

And this grappling with paradox, with battle-tested opposition and battle-tempered optimism may well sow another “Passionately Powerful” ingredient of leadership – ‘”the public face of wisdom” – or what Stephen Hall calls “responsibility to the collective future, offering a kind of moral inspiration to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.” (Stephen Hall, “The Older and Wiser Hypothesis,” The New York Times Magazine, May 6, 2007, p.58.): There is a Yin-Yang quality to wisdom. It “is founded upon knowledge, but part of the physics of wisdom is shaped by uncertainty. Action is important, but so is judicious inaction. Emotion is central to wisdom, yet detachment is essential.”

Still, oft times, that formative ingredient for the bridge between hopelessness and determination is a blend of both mighty struggle and mindful “letting go” along the paradoxical pathway of symbolic if not spiritual death and rebirth. These poetic lines penned years ago make a fitting transition from a “cognitive-comedia” analysis to the “affective-gravitas” box”:

For the Phoenix to rise from the ashes
One must know the pain
To transform the fire to burning desire!

Box 3. Affective – Gravitas = Passionate

1. Being Passionate. Passion! What does it evoke? Intensity, heat, steaminess…the “s”-word: “soap opera?” No, of course it’s sex? Actually, we in Washington, DC know the “s”-word for passion…It is “Senator.” (Or it was until Bill Clinton ruined my joke.) Interestingly, if you have a good dictionary the “s”-word for “passion” is neither sex nor senator…it’s “suffering,” as in the Passion Play. This relates to the sufferings of Jesus or, more generically, to the sufferings of a martyr. (Imagine all this time I never knew my Jewish mother was such a passionate woman!)

a. Suffering, Passion and Power Connection. So what’s the connection between “suffering,” “passion” and being a powerful leader or motivator? For me it’s fundamental (but beware a passion that has any motivational speaker or leader becoming a self-righteous or obsessed, “I know the one truth” fundamentalist. Remember, there’s that fine line between vision and hallucination). Actually, grappling honestly with your pure pain, with your deepest emotional memories (for renowned English author, John Fowles, his “electric current”) means being plugged into your power source. (Also, there is the classic adage of the existential philosopher, Georges Santayana: Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them.) Personally, feeling and facing the emotional breadth and depth of my past – no matter how painful – means living more fully in the present and living more fearlessly for the future. Ultimately, you make decisions from the heart (and gut), not just the head.

b. Passion and Leadership. And people feel and are touched by your pain, energy and courage. As Francois La Rouchefoucald, the 17th century French classical writer, observed (quoted in Kay Redfield Jamison’s Exuberance: The Passion For Life, Random House, 2004), “Passions are the only orators which always persuade. They are like an act of nature, the rules of which are infallible; and the simplest man who has some passion persuades better than the most eloquent who has none.” Jamison, meanwhile, underscores a dynamic commander’s ability to unite a divided or dispirited group, organization or nation: “In times of adversity, inspired leadership offers energy and hope where little or none exist, gives a belief in the future to those who have lost it, and provides a unifying spirit to a splintered populace.”

c. Leadership and Letting Go. Yet despite the connection and reciprocal energy transfusions between leader and followers (or maybe because of the same), a passionate and wise leader, one who values personal integrity and uplifting humanity, likely will need time and space to grapple with his or her demons of the deep and the dark. Such introspection is often necessary for a dynamic leader not to succumb to self-serving grandiosity or a messianic complex. Personally, to transform pain into “passion power” is often a leap of faith. If I pause and courageously gaze into and meditate upon that black hole and, often with the help of tears, my fog recedes and the dark clouds disperse, then that restless, haunting “night of the soul” may magically open up a luminous path of natural healing and hope. As I once observed:

Whether the loss is a key person, a desired position or a powerful
illusion, each deserves the respect of a mourning. The pit in the
stomach, the clenched fists and quivering, jaw, the anguished
sobs prove catalytic in time. In mystical fashion, like spring upon
winter, the seeds of dissolution bear fruitful renewal.

Surviving the dark night, at times in solitude, sometimes with support, frequently yields a new dawn of purpose and direction. (And support, of course, can range from the psychosocial to the biochemical.)

d. Humility and Integrity. Trial and error (and if you survive, even trial and terror) is often the source of both penetrating insight (especially about the abuse of power) and passionate humility. And I use the phrase “passionate humility” knowingly. While acknowledging and honoring humility, you must also overcome a constricting self-consciousness and listen to your inner cry – from a need to present an authentic self to a need for individual space or to right an injustice. Achieving real freedom – both psychological and physical in nature – requires “blood, sweat, tears and joy” struggle. Consider this “higher pain-higher power” passage from the 20th century pioneering poet, e.e. cummings: To be nobody but yourself night and day in a world that is trying to make you like everybody else, is to fight the hardest fight you will ever fight…And you never stop fighting.”

So harness and share your pain and passion and embark on a journey of self-definition and self-discovery along the imperfect lifelong path of learning and leading:

Remember, an error of judgment or design rarely consigns one to a position of incompetence; such miscalculations more likely reveal inexperience or immaturity, perhaps even boldness. Our so-called failures can be channeled as guiding streams – sometimes raging rivers – of opportunity and experience that widen and deepen the risk-taking passage. If we can just immerse ourselves in those unpredictably churning yet ultimately rejuvenating waters.

Rebuilding Fire and Spirit: The Social Worker Story

So how can you bring more passionate energy to life’s roles and responsibilities? How can you resurrect your personal and professional spirit? Here’s one example. During a break in a Practice Safe Stress Program, an experienced social worker approached me about her interest in doing public speaking. People have told her she has a flair for communicating with groups. When I encouraged her to choose a subject that evokes feelings of passion, her immediate reply: “That’s what everyone says.” But alas, she claimed she wasn’t feeling passionate about anything right now; she couldn’t focus on a particular subject. She likely was dealing with “third stage” burnout – “cynicism and callousness.”

This woman intuitively understood that to rediscover her fire and soul she needed to shake up her career puzzle. And she was challenging me to dig deeper and share something tangible and meaningful. Now really focusing on her heartfelt and existential plea, I responded with a series of suggestions and questions, ultimately helping us both find the proverbial pass in the impasse? Consider these strategic points:
1) identify a source of or an experience related to major personal pain or trauma and/or life-identity challenge or crisis (recall how the Latin root for “passion” relates to “suffering”)
2) reflect broadly and deeply on how this experience impacted you and significant others?; what were past-present-future fears, frustrations and fantasies exposed or cultivated by this trauma or challenge?
3) how did you not just cope but fight through the warring external dungeons and dragons and internal self-doubts and demons?
4) what did you learn from the initial or ongoing trials, failures and successes? What aspects of your life – substance and style, mind-body-spirit – were transformed? Also, what growth processes still remain; what research and learning must continue? And how does your story relate to another individual trying to make sense of his or her life or struggling to discover a life purpose? And finally,
5) how will you organize this newfound understanding in your head and heart and how will you share this hard-earned and soulful wisdom with others?

And suddenly the light went on. This seeker had a pregnant concept to ponder, nurture and pursue. She stated that she would credit me for her launch once she’s on the national speaking circuit. In fact, with practice and persistence, along with a healthy dose of such attitude and her new rekindled spirit, she just might make it!

So sing out from the stage. Let inspired expression be the medium for releasing your passion and truth and for helping others realize their fervent and fertile desires. To quote my workshop title – “Ignite Your Fire, Inspire Their Focus.” Your passionate essence becomes food for thought and fuel for the heart, nurturing spirits within and without.

Box 4. Affective – Comedia

1. Being Playful. As a way of introducing the final “P,” let’s stop and consider the emotive transition from “Gravitas” to “Comedia.” Is there an “Affective” link between being “Passionate” and “Playful?” Consider the contrast of “play” and “work.” While the former can be strenuous, for example, playing a competitive sport, true play always retains the objective of “amusement, diversion or enjoyment.” In fact, I recently changed the descriptor of a “Practice Safe Stress” training program from workshop to “playshop.” Yet there’s a reason why child psychologists often deem the play of a child equivalent to work.

a. Multi-Functional Play. More than just being a light-hearted pursuit, play has been one of the greatest enterprises for exploring, socializing, bonding and unifying throughout the evolutionary history of the animal kingdom. Play has many functions: a) gives individuals an opportunity to learn group norms and boundaries, b) allows for innovatively expanding and challenging rules and procedures, c) encourages skill development and the exercise of the imagination, d) may be a learning laboratory for emotional development, maturation and creativity in the realms of work, friendship and love, and e) frequently builds a sense of individual and group identity and short- and long-term camaraderie as well as fostering trust and teamwork. And play infused with laughter seems to magnify the above psychosocial and cultural processes. Of course, play can also turn into an aggressive “winner take all” or “win at any cost” pursuit or obsession. (Think steroid use in a variety of athletic arenas). The “playground” starts morphing into a “battleground.”

Yet, even in the most serious, fragile and painful moments, humor and laughter may come out and play. Consider this quote from one of the pioneering geniuses of comedy, Charlie Chaplin:

A paradoxical thing about making comedy is that it is precisely the
tragic which arouses the funny. We have to laugh due to our
helplessness in the face of natural forces and in order not to go crazy.

b. Multifaceted Nature of “Play.” Play is certainly a protean concept, frequently taking on new shape, size and substance. For example, despite a spontaneous understanding of the word, I never realized how many common expressions begin with or involve the word “play.” Nor could I imagine how the varieties of expressions with their different connotations speak to the skills and strategies of the versatile leader and performer. Consider these examples: “play upon” (words or another’s emotions), “play a role” or “role-play,” “play it by ear” (that is, having a capacity for improvisation or, for example, by truly listening to your team’s and audience’s needs and interests as your project or program unfolds), and “play the fool” (often knowingly and for strategic advantage). I especially like this usage: “play a trick on.” Based on my experience, being “mischievous” or a tad “devilish” – two of Roget’s synonyms for “playful” – can be very engaging qualities that, ultimately, spark or tickle others out of their comfort zones. Also, many people embrace or long to act out their impish, slightly naughty or roguish inner child (e.g., think adult Halloween costumes). Or admire or envy, if only secretly, those who do.

Certainly, a dynamic leader or presenter wants to give “full play” to his or her mind and emotions – whether play involves “range, liberty, license or freedom” (within “PG” or, perhaps on occasion, “R”-rated limits). And even the phenomenon of the “play of light and shadow” can be an analogy for the rapid movement or sudden ebbs and flows within and between our two basic dimensions – “cognitive–affective” and especially “gravitas–comedia.” (And as a presenter and motivator I also freely move back and forth between serious and humorous lecture, exercise and group discussion, hopefully generating both shared high energy and poignant reflection.)

Closing Story

The “Four ‘P’s of Passion Power” have been outlined as a 2x2 matrix. While perhaps an ideal model, these performance and leadership concepts and applied strategies have been evolving for me over the course of more than two decades as a therapist and coach, OD/team building consultant, workshop facilitator and motivational speaker. This educational and motivational schema is battle-tested! My head and heart-felt belief is that when a presenter or leader blends and expresses the “cognitive and affective” along with a capacity for “gravitas and comedia” then, to invert “the bard,” an interactive stage or arena ripe for human drama comes into play. Leader and audience or troops, manager and employees or educator and students are set to generate dynamic chemistry, engage in fresh and focused communication and mutually generate a transitional space. This space-time interface is alive with possibility. Both parties can authentically engage and energetically define and design specific relationships within a “high task and high touch” world of learning, imagination and creative activity.

“Passion Power” at Work: Healing Organizational Wounds

Finally, consider this Four “P” enactment with an organization in crisis that surely was built on “Purposeful-Provocative-Passionate-Playful” pillars. The intervention definitely captured the essence of synergy: the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts! Naturally, this is especially true when the parts are contentiously divided. Nearly twenty years ago, I was consulting with a federal court that was automating their record keeping process. Management had not solicited much input from employees directly impacted by the technical changes, especially involving a key administrative form. The employees were not just anxious about an uncertain future but were also angry for being bypassed in the decision-making and implementation process. In the employees’ minds their professional status and experience were being ignored or discounted. And not surprisingly, there was passive group resistance to the change.

Memos and motivational exhortations were having minimal effect when an epiphany began percolating. In a meeting with top management I noted that we missed the boat on the front end, but I believed we could get back on. But we had to stop simply defining employee behavior as resistance to change. We needed to appreciate and truly understand their sense of loss of control and even a loss of identity, along with the understandable hurt and anger. We needed to grasp the reality that a new learning curve often generates anxiety and, perhaps, a diminished sense of self-confidence and competence. Once I recognized their state of grief, achieving a starting point was possible: "Let's have a forms funeral." Suddenly, we had a live public forum in which a common reality could be acknowledged and emotional intensity be openly aroused and shared. This proved a lot more effective than a typical – whether formal or informal – gripe session. We gave employees a stage for: a) mourning the loss of the old data processing system, b) expressing frustration with management's unilateral process and c) articulating concerns about the upcoming changes. And the stage eventually became a forum for shared laughter around common frustrations and even a sense of celebration. (An Irish wake comes to mind, or perhaps using the dying to celebrate the living.)

Analysis: So pairing organizational loss and change with the dynamics of grief yielded an imaginative and provocative analogy, one with real life application. (As a change agent, might we say I was “living by my wits”?) The idea of a forms funeral that allowed for group and community grieving, including acknowledging employee pain and management missteps, helped build a communicational bridge. Giving and accepting critical feedback enabled both parties to reach an understanding of the problem dynamics, to begin rebuilding trust, to gradually let go of past hurts while engaging in future decision-making dialogue, and to achieve hopeful closure. Now all levels in the organization recognized that the whole had to be part of the problem and part of the solution.

The double-edged nature of the funeral analogy became apparent: a forms funeral allowed the organization to lay to rest, genuinely and respectfully, a painful and contentious past while creating an opportunity for a new way of collaborating – with mutual “give-and-take.” Clearly, our funeral was a two-way – management-employee, past-future – “rites of passage.” By thinking provocatively and acting imaginatively, a more cohesive and responsive Organizational Phoenix rose from the administrative ashes of unilateral decision-making. We had transcended the proverbial “box”…obviously now we were thinking and living “out of the coffin!”

Finally, the closing segment of this series (Part III) will use the Four “P” Model as a jumping off point for becoming not just a dynamic leader but also a Purposeful-Provocative-Passionate-Playful “Motivational Humorist.” Hopefully, tools and techniques to help you and your group lead a life infused with “Passion Power” and to help one and all…Practice Safe Stress!

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, “The Stress Doc” ™, is a keynote and kickoff speaker, training/OD & team building consultant, psychotherapist and “Motivational Humorist.” He is the author Practice Safe Stress: Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression and The Four Faces of Anger: Transforming Anger, Rage, and Conflict into Inspiring Attitude & Behavior. The Doc is AOL’s “Online Psychohumorist” ™ and pioneer of a USA Today Online “HotSite” – www.stressdoc.com – recognized as a “workplace resource” by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc’s speaking and training programs, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-946-0865.

Leading with “Passion Power”: The Art and Science of
“Motivational Humor” – Part III

The first two segments of this three-part series on “Leading with Passion Power” outlined a 2x2 matrix model comprised of two polar variables: “Cognitive-Affective” (Informational Mode) and “Gravitas-Comedia” (Motivational Mood). The interaction yields “The Four ‘P’s of Passion Power – being Purposeful-Provocative-Passionate-Playful.” The definitions and illustrations of these terms (see Part II) are often “out of the box.” The model clarifies why and how a multifaceted and integrated Four “P” leader brings uncommon “Personal Energy, Professional Creativity and Organizational Synergy” to his or her: a) leadership roles and relations, b) use of resources and c) individual- and team-oriented results. Now, Part III will explore in depth the interaction of the “Affective and Comedia” mode-mood dimensions, especially how being “Playful” becomes the play-ground for “humor.” More specifically, here are skills and strategies that will enable a leader to add healing, energizing and inspiring humor to his “Passion Power” repertoire.

Humor vs. Wit

From my perspective, a Four “P” Leader who knows how to purposefully, provocatively and passionately play is a “Motivational Humorist.” (And if you add a psychological bent, then this person is approaching my trademarked label; he or she is becoming a “Psychohumorist” ™. Of course, I always let the audience decide where the emphasis on this word should go.) As will become abundantly clear, there is a tangible link between using humor as an educational and motivational tool and leadership effectiveness. Let me define humor, contrast humor and wit, and then illustrate healing humor’s functions and interdependent connection with laughing, learning and leading.

“Humor (is) the recognition and expression of the incongruities and peculiarities in a situation or conduct.” A capacity for humor often reveals an ability to appreciate and comically convey life’s absurdities, to poke (mostly) gentle fun at others and also, especially, to laugh at our own flaws and foibles. Being emotive, expressive and self-effacing highlight key points of difference with the highly cognitive concept of “wit.” As was noted in Part II, wit is the quick recognition and clever expression of the unexpected similarities or analogies between things seemingly unlike or contradictory. Wit often has a sharp, razor edge; in contrast, humor, especially healing humor, is kindler and gentler. Wit is concise and highly verbal while humor often has an unfolding and exaggerated, if not silly, non-verbal component. For example, think Charlie Chaplin or the Marx Brothers, though Groucho often integrated both clever one-liners that deflated the pompous while strutting about in an oversized tux and chomping on an outlandish cigar. In extremis, humor can become ridiculous while wit can cut with ridicule. Here’s a quick distinguishing visual: humor is letting the air out of a balloon and having it spin wildly about; wit is more akin to suddenly sticking a pin in the balloon.

Functions of Healing Humor

Within the “Playful” dimension, our focus is on the essence of healing humor: a) turning on good biochemistry, b) opening and freeing one’s mental processing, and c) accepting one’s self and the other through knowing laughter. Healing is an apt term, as science discovers how humor and laughter have powerful implications for optimal mind-body functioning. In addition, there is a definite motivational method to madness both tempered and transformed by mirth. Drawing on content from my book, Practice Safe Stress: Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression, let’s examine some key chemical-emotional-cognitive functions of humor as it relates to stress and leadership:

1. Turning on the Good Chemistry. We all know that there are palpable physical manifestations of the human stress response – including a racing pulse and accelerated heart rate. Well, guess what? Laughter is a natural antidote to stress as it actually reduces your heart rate, thus slowing your pulse and counteracting other secondary stress symptoms before they have a chance to do too much damage! At a physiological level, full-throttle laughter gives your facial muscles and your cardio-respiratory-musculo-skeletal systems a workout, including raising endorphin and dopamine levels. These chemicals are the mind-body’s natural pain relievers as well as mood and pleasure enhancers.

Actually, vigorous laughter has been described as “inner jogging.” With a bit more literary juice, Dr. William Fry, a pioneer in the study of the broad physiological effects of laughter (see his Sweet Madness: A Study of Humor, 1982) likens laughing with gusto to turning your body into a big vibrator giving those vital organs a brief but hearty internal massage! Two minutes of belly laughter is the endorphin equivalent of ten minutes on the rowing machine.

2. Self-Effacing and Self-Affirming Function. Higher power humor involves more than the chuckle or guffaw. Its laughter loosens your emotional defenses. After the physiological reaction there often is psychological insight. You eventually go from “Ha-ha” to “Aha!” (See below.) For example, upon turning seventy-five, a French dramatist and poet, Edmund Rostand, gazing into a mirror, opined: “Mirrors just aren’t what they used to be!” Rostand’s reframe is not just a change in perspective; it likely reflects an expansive sense of self.

Courageous and playful defiance often capture the healing and harmonizing spirit of humor. You don’t have to take yourself so seriously. An ability to face our flaws and foibles, even our mortality, with a light if not an enlightened heart is not just a sign of maturity. It truly reflects wisdom and psychological wholeness.

3. Generating and Grasping Humor/Wit-Creativity Connection. And speaking of wholeness, humor and laughter also seem to stimulate imaginative flow. Noted 20th century political philosopher and author, Arthur Koestler, ingeniously observed this relation between humor and creativity in his major work, The Act of Creation. Koestler gleaned the mental and vocal connections among art appreciation, scientific discovery, and humor. In each of these cognitive undertakings, we connect two or more seemingly unrelated or contradictory ideas and elements and suddenly “get it.” With art, we say “Ah,” in science, “Aha!” and when we laugh, it’s “Ha-ha.” (Do you recall Mark Twain’s marvelous conception of “wit”? Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation.)

4. Opening and Freeing Minds. Going beyond the vocal and philosophical, some research suggests that humor may be a catalyst for innovative problem solving. In the 1980s, Dr. Alice Isen, a psychologist at the University of Maryland, found that people who had just watched a short comedy video of television bloopers were better able to find a creative solution to a puzzling problem than subjects who had exercised, or people who had watched a video about math (zzzzz!).

Humor seems to energize the right side of the brain, allowing us to think more broadly, to make complex connections, and to exaggerate ideas and events, thereby allowing us to capture or construct elusive relationships. And because laughter both relaxes and frees the mind-body, it is my belief that “people are more open to a serious message when it is gift-wrapped with humor.”

Laughing, Learning and Leading or The War Zone-Rubber Ducky Intervention

A “Higher Power Humor” and “Passion Power” leader has a sense of play that doesn’t lose sight of her own or other’s humanity. She has a compassionate understanding of perplexing and incongruous human nature, along with our being all too imperfect and inconsistent creatures. And a sense of absurdity that comes out to play and laugh even in the face of stress or danger can help people accept flaws and foibles while affirming both their vulnerable and vital natures. Playful surprise may even gently cajole others to bridge differences and to risk engaging the impractical or the unknown.

Consider this example of a leader who was determined to play, even under the most trying conditions, in order to: a) reduce the stress-fueled sniping among his charges, b) bolster morale, and c) inject fun and healing humor and strengthen the belief in a “we’re all in this together” community. During one of my workshops, a State Department manager shared the following scenario. He had been stationed at the American Embassy in Kuwait in 1990 as war clouds were gathering in darkness and intensity. Not surprisingly, tension in the embassy was rising daily. Being restricted to the compound was exacerbating stress levels in a war-zone. The Ambassador decided to intervene before the internal grumbling and sniping eroded psychological coping, team cooperation and organizational morale. He told his second-in-command to inform personnel that the next day was a holiday and that all embassy staff would be going to the beach.

His deputy, incredulous, protested: “Sir, a war could break out any moment. It’s not safe to leave the compound!” The Ambassador, nevertheless, reaffirmed his desire to have people ready to go to the beach the next morning.

Bright and early the next day the Ambassador descended the stairs in bathing trunks and robe while carrying a blowup rubber ducky. Most personnel were not similarly attired. “Ye of little faith,” declared the Ambassador and proceeded to march everyone outside. And lo and behold, during the night, somehow, this Ambassador had managed to have tons of sand trucked in and dumped in the compound. And staff had a tension-relieving, fun-filled day at the beach. The in-house stress siege was broken; the embassy personnel regrouped their individual and group resources and professionally weathered the war storm.

Strategic Points. Defying outmoded conventions or rules, whether in relation to an external enemy or, when critical, even regarding departmental protocol and procedures is a key weapon in the “Passion Power” leader’s playful bag of tricks. When an authority figure is both brave and purposefully or provocatively playful in the face of threat or bureaucratic rigidity, the role-modeling and morale-building effect is often contagious. Add some visual props and others can come out of their battle shells and play. A daring director just may transform a “theater of war” into the “theater of the absurd.” And team rejuvenation, not just tension relief, may be your final reward.

Let’s allow the father of psychoanalysis to have the closing words on the relation of hazard and humor. Sigmund Freud was a student of humor and wit’s relation to conscious and unconscious coping. Freud extolled philosophical humor as the most mature or “highest” defense mechanism, that is, such humor facilitates self-protection without self-constriction or hostile attack. Such higher power humor (or “healing humor”) is based on having internalized parental encouragement of your efforts and gentle tolerance of your failures. Of course, not all of us were so fortunate with those childhood internalizations. The evolutionary goal then becomes generating a mix of compassionate and courageous and, even, a bit outrageous mentors and role models along with embracing trial and error learning. And once experiencing sufficient reward for taking risk, you are in position to extol Herr Freud’s ringing declaration: “Look here! This is all this seemingly dangerous world amounts to. Child’s play – the very thing to jest about.” Seems like our Ambassador might have made a good Freudian analyst in addition to a Four “P” – “Purposeful-Provocative-Passionate-Playful” – Leader!

On Becoming a Motivational Humorist

So what enables a person to become a motivational and healing humorist? Consider these characteristics:

1. A Paradoxical Perspective. First is an appreciation for the paradoxical. We’ve already examined Freud’s belief in humor’s ability to transmute powerful adversity into playful absurdity, as well as Mark Twain’s and Arthur Koestler’s linkage of wit and laughter and unexpected cognitive connection. Now consider the take of that comic genius, Charlie Chaplin, on the surprising interdependence between the comic and tragic: “A paradoxical thing about making comedy is that it is precisely the tragic which arouses the funny. We have to laugh due to our helplessness in the faces of natural forces…and in order not to go crazy.”

An ability to laugh at our absurdities or seemingly helpless condition makes it easier to accept our own fears, flaws and foibles; we are not alone in our frenzy. For example, right after 9/11, when airport lines were creating serious customer stress, Baltimore-Washington International Airport hired actors to play costumed comic figures, such as Groucho Marx – (and as previously noted) in tails, with a crouched walk, leering eyes, and waving an oversized cigar – to banter with folks, so that a sense of the absurd could reduce if not replace anxiety or frustration. Two complementary quotes illuminate the powerful interplay between fear and focus, laughter and psychological freedom, that is, how the lunacy of Marxism could beat the threat of bin Ladenism:
Psychiatrist Ernst Kris: “What was once feared and is now mastered is laughed at.” And the Stress Doc’s inversion: “What was once feared and is now laughed at is no longer a master!”

2. Comfort with Some Craziness, Defiance and Imperfection. If a person can blend a touch of personal silliness or wackiness, an appreciation for the ridiculous or contradiction, a willingness to tweak or tickle a rigid or unresponsive system, and an ability for verbal and nonverbal absurdity (think of the Rubber Ducky Ambassador), while being comfortable with neurosis and/or imperfection he or she has definite potential as a healing humorist. In other words, a leader doesn’t only come in the “strong silent type” variety as often packaged by Hollywood. As I like to
say, “Strong silent types usually get a lot more ulcers than Oscars!”

3. Harmony Over Hostility. Such a humorist must also avoid “hostile humor”: when a person inflates their self-worth or covers up inadequacies with “scarcasm,” that is, ridiculing or demonizing others and reveling in their so-called outcast, incompetent or inferior status. However, a leader must decisively set limits on a stress carrier starting to infect the vitality and harmony of the larger team or community. And often there’s a fine line separating harmony and hostility…and a too clever line may propel you over the edge.

When Emerson Trumped Empathy

Here’s a vignette pitting me against a demonizing antagonist that raises a key question: Did my counterpunch find the best balance between harmony and hostility? I was leading a two-day Stress Management workshop in Salt Lake City, Utah for a federal government agency that was experiencing interpersonal tension and morale problems. The first day seemed to go well. The most tangible evidence was that the next morning a few folks initiated buying donuts for all forty participants. So a variety of donuts were being distributed before the class formally starts. All of a sudden, a male audience member, who later identified himself as a Mormon, began vehemently protesting: “You call yourself a stress expert, and you’re going to allow them to pass out those donuts; with all that fat and sugar!”

I was taken aback. I acknowledged his beliefs and his concern for the nutritional issues as regards physical and psychological well-being. (A few years earlier, for a legal magazine, I had written about changing my diet and exercise regimen. I always liked the title of the article: “Hard Realities vs. Hard Arteries: Fat Food for Thought.”) Before I could finish, our pedantic protester cut me off, continued the challenge, and then declared: “How can I trust anything you say about stress, when you take such a hypocritical position!” Trying to be reasonable, again agreeing with some of his concerns, still I recognized the buying and sharing of donuts as a real form of social nurturance and support. Both of these are important for relieving stress and building emotional health and group morale.

Our nutritional moralist seemed undaunted. I also realized that this ongoing confrontation was agitating the entire group, though no one said anything. I didn’t want to lose control of the atmosphere of positive learning and sharing, nor did I want the audience to lose trust in my capacity for leadership. The tension reached a critical point. I reflexively went into a self-effacing survival mode and replied with maybe a shade too much impatience and irony: “Well, I guess the only way I can justify my behavior is to paraphrase the American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘[Too much] consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.’”

A woman from the audience fairly shouted, “That’s a good one.” The confrontational standoff was over. My antagonist was disarmed and deflated. At the time, I mostly thought I was poking fun at myself to get Mr. Moralist off my (and the audience’s) back. But in hindsight, I wasn’t simply self-lampooning, but was also wielding a witty (albeit unconscious) weapon.

Today, when I share this story with counselors, educators, or trainers, a number gasp, groan, or grimace. I truly did cut down Mr. Mormon in public. I was not psychologically correct, for which I have conflicting thoughts. And yet, in the spirit of embracing contradiction, my counter ultimately had a healing effect. By the afternoon, Mr. M. could venture out of his crusty shell, this time without fighting dietary demons or Stress Docs. With the help of a group exercise, he began to acknowledge his intense feelings of work burnout. This out of character level of honesty and vulnerability was made possible by disarming his previous offensive defensiveness. And it garnered him, not the moral high ground, but down-to-earth emotional sustenance and problem-solving support from colleagues (who had been inhaling his burnout fumes for months).

The moral: By momentarily disarming an antagonist while still pursuing understanding and healing along with a zest for contradiction, you can set limits on while also supporting a “stress carrier.” By mixing caring and confrontation...you can even (symbolically or moderately) eat donuts! And most important, the competence of the leader, the working harmony of the group and the humanity and standing of the participant are reaffirmed.

4. Sensitive and Tough Skinned, Neither “Black or White” Minded. Clearly, a motivational leader must be sensitive to people’s pain and show healthy tolerance for feedback and conflict. This individual will help others move beyond all-or-none posturing: to appreciate or discover the humorous in the serious and to cleverly yet compassionately challenge others to go beyond simplistic “right vs. wrong” thinking. For me, a New Yorker cartoon forever embedded the dangers of rigid “all or none” or “black or white” thinking. A pompous-looking publisher standing behind his power desk begins to chastise a humbly dressed, hat-in-hand Charles Dickens: “Really, Mr. Dickens…was it the best of times or was it the worst of times? It could scarcely have been both!”

Even in trying times, a motivational humorist helps people to see the glass as half empty and half full (one way being, of course, to look for the lipstick stains). Such a leader is also transformational, turning a “gripe session” into a “grape session.” He or she encourages others to get their frustrations on the table and to purposefully and playfully pound them in public. (For example, recall our “Rubber Ducky” Ambassador.) And once sufficient juice has been squeezed, and necessary fermenting time allowed, when even sour grapes may well discover a touch of lightness or sweetness (think moral Mormon), then perhaps all can harvest the fruits of their labor, learning and laughter.

Making Motivational Humor Work

The keys to the successful use of motivational humor in a team, division or entire organization – let’s call it a mirthful “Mission Improbable” – involve setting limits on dysfunctional disrupters while strengthening mutual understanding, shared tension relief and enjoyment. Also vital is finding the pass in the impasse as well as collaborative conflict resolution among diverse and often competing people. Surely, these are critical objectives in our always on, “do more with less” and increasingly territorial “survivor” climate.

The bottom line: dispense and encourage positive humor amongst the troops! Of course, sometimes easier said then done. There often is a fine line if not a fine art to consciously distinguishing between “healing vs. hostile” humor, or not turning “harmonizing” humor into the “humiliating” variety. That’s why savvy and self-aware humorists are needed, especially in these rapidly upgrading and downsizing, unpredictably traumatic, and predictably absurd times, to foster employee resilience and bolster organizational productivity and morale. In summary, learn to blend: 1) A Paradoxical Perspective, 2) Comfort with Some Craziness, Defiance and Imperfection, 3) Harmony Over Hostility and 4) Sensitive and Tough Skinned, Neither “Black or White” Minded. And voila! You now have a four-part recipe for serious and luminous lunacy and leadership, that is, for becoming a “Motivational Humorist.”

Humor-Human-Higher Power Connection

While I have tried to argue the playful, universal and critical value of humor, not all would agree with this position. I’m reminded of a syndicated Pogo cartoon. Pogo and his somewhat cynical catfish friend Porky are lazily boating down an unspoiled, scenic river. Porky is crediting God for a job well done…except for one thing. Porky exclaims, “It is jes too bad he didn’t knock off a day earlier when he was ahead.”

Trying to dissuade the catfish of his misanthropic attitude, Pogo claims, “If it weren’t for human beans life wouldn’t have as many laughs.”

Porky’s instant reply: “It wouldn’t need as many.”

Being all too human – whether leader or learner, speaker or student – we need the laughs.
One of the world's great humanitarians, the undaunted perceptual trailblazer, Helen Keller, beautifully captured the universal motivation in, if you will, a humor mission statement:

The world is so full of care and sorrow that it is a gracious debt we owe to one another
to discover the bright crystals of delight in somber circumstances and irksome tasks.

Finally, the comic genius, Charlie Chaplin’s powerful explanation also bears repeating:

The paradoxical thing in making comedy is the tragic is precisely what arouses
the funny. We have to laugh due to our helplessness in the face of natural
forces and (in order) not to go crazy.

And speaking of powerful forces and the forces for powerful leading and speaking…seek the higher power and “passion power” of humor: May the Force and Farce Be with You!

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, “The Stress Doc” ™, is a keynote and kickoff speaker, training/OD & team building consultant, psychotherapist and “Motivational Humorist.” He is the author Practice Safe Stress: Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression and The Four Faces of Anger: Transforming Anger, Rage, and Conflict into Inspiring Attitude & Behavior. The Doc is AOL’s “Online Psychohumorist” ™ and pioneer of a USA Today Online “HotSite” – www.stressdoc.com – recognized as a “workplace resource” by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc’s speaking and training programs, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-946-0865.

Author's Bio: 

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, “The Stress Doc” ™, is a keynote and kickoff speaker, training/OD & team building consultant, psychotherapist and “Motivational Humorist.” He is the author Practice Safe Stress: Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression and The Four Faces of Anger: Transforming Anger, Rage, and Conflict into Inspiring Attitude & Behavior. The Doc is AOL’s “Online Psychohumorist” ™ and pioneer of a USA Today Online “HotSite” – www.stressdoc.com – recognized as a “workplace resource” by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc’s speaking and training programs, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-946-0865.