[April 2, 2022] “Don’t take yourself so seriously, Satterfield.” My Platoon Sergeant was conducting my first performance review as a new NCO and gave me some much-needed advice. I wanted to do a good job as his team leader; being new, maybe I was too intense. His guidance to me was to relax and use humor to make leadership easier.
Since I was a kid, I have been into comic books and reading the funny pages in the daily newspaper. It was an incentive to read, so that was a reason my mom and dad allowed me to buy a comic book once a month. Initially, I bought the Beatle Bailey comic books. Later, as a teenager, my humor changed, and I began reading Gary Larson’s Far Side comics.
“I think one thing that’s important to maintain is a sense of fear, always doubting yourself… a good dose of insecurity helps your work in some ways.” – Gary Larson
I’m still a fan of The Far Side. What I like about it is the surrealistic humor based on uncomfortable social situations. I was uncomfortable as a new NCO, so I could relate. Gary Larson had a twisted sense of humor, and he used people and animals (often cows and dogs, but just about any animal).
One of my favorite publications by Larson was titled “Winder Dog Art: A Far Side Collection” (1990).1 It was a tough time for me that year. I was working crazy hours as an Infantry Company Commander, and his work made me smile and remember not to take myself too seriously.
Through the years in the Army, I always tried to remember that leadership is about people. And, if you want to influence people, you need to have an attractive message. Humor goes a long way toward making it a reality; humor is like the grease that keeps machinery going. A good joke, a comic book, or the funny pages can be a great vehicle for getting your message across.
I found that using self-deprecating humor is the safest and most practical. It shows that you are human, and if used correctly (which is difficult), it can be a powerful tool. Don’t muck it up! There is a thin line between exposing a simple human fault (funny) and faking it (not so funny).
Use humor, use it skillfully, and have an easier time as a leader.
Please read my new book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” on Amazon (link here).