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Sunday
May102015

Becoming a "Silly" Leader

STOP! Before you put this down, thinking it has nothing to offer you, consider the meaning of the word silly. According to Richard Stone, it has the same roots as the German word selig, which means blessed, fortunate, favored, and happy.

Many leaders seem to take themselves and their responsibilities far too seriously (I’m one of them). They live with the fear of failure, looking foolish, or appearing incompetent.  Consequently, it’s easy to opt for sticking with what you think will work and make you look good. I, for one, vote for being silly as a leader and, believe me, I’ve got a long way to go. I’m the poster child for leadership seriousness/stuffiness. I should listen to the advice of my former co-worker, Steve Gilmore, who said: “Life is a parade, be a clown!”

Seriousness can kill innovation, creativity and fresh progress. Silliness can restore adventure and curiosity. Now, when I advocate being silly, I’m not talking about making a complete idiot of yourself or becoming the laughing stock of your team. I’m talking about chilling out, lightening up, getting a life and tapping into your God-given creativity. Noted educator, Neil Postman, has observed that: “Children enter school as question marks and leave as periods.” Maybe, at last, I’m ready to return to creative child-like silliness. I’m beginning to think that ministry and leadership should be fun, not an arduous task that drains and discourages more than it lifts and exhilarates. But, be prepared. Silliness is not generally well received. Many leaders tend to abhor and shy away from silliness and are critical of those who act silly. You might hear things like:

  • Let’s just follow the rules
  • That's not logical
  • Be practical
  • Don’t be foolish
  • That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of
  • Come on now, that’s pure nonsense

Bill Hybels shares that he got the idea of building a real bridge in the worship center for Easter to visually portray Christ being the bridge to eternal life.  Never been done before, highly unusual, possibility of being accused of being outlandish, extravagant.  It was just a wild, silly, unconventional idea. They built it and people, after the services, (much to the staff’s surprise) began to walk across it to signify crossing over from death to life. Bill quickly got on the phone with the builder up in the booth concerned that the bridge might collapse, triggering a lawsuit or, worse yet, visually demonstrating that Christ as the bridge wasn’t strong enough.  “Relax,” said the builder, “you could drive a truck across it.” It was an Easter service no one will ever forget.

A number of years ago I joined a Toastmasters club while living in Seattle. It was unlike any Toastmasters club I had ever been a part of. There was more fun, creativity and pure silliness per square inch than any group I’d ever been with. It rubbed off and affected me greatly. Many of those in the club were very unorthodox and imaginative. They had great off-the-wall, outside-the-box ideas. (I tend to do the same things in the same way, being the quintessential “rut thinker.”)

At one Toastmasters meeting, Dean gave his intro via a tape recording of his own voice and mouthed the words. He wore different hats at different points in the meeting, addressed the audience from the side rather than the front and used a number of other highly unusual and “never-been-done-before” techniques. The bottom line was, he was being just plain silly. We loved it. Everybody had a load of laughs and a great deal of fun. It enhanced rather than hindered our learning.

I suspect that, privately, many of us do things with freedom and abandonment. But in public we become conservative, cautious and fearful. Oh, to dance as if no one were looking, to live our lives out loud, to be free to let it all hang out and not be overly concerned with what others may think. I’m wondering how many of the truly creative and idea-rich leaders throughout history had a good deal of silliness in them--Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison and Winston Churchill for starters.

Richard Stone, author of “The Healing Art of Storytelling” says: “When I give adults in my training programs permission to be silly by asking them to make up fanciful stories, an amazing thing happens. Their energy picks up, their thinking begins to flow in unexpected ways, and they become more unified as a team. Perhaps most important, their ability to solve real-world problems soars.” The first rule of being a silly leader is to play the revolutionary and challenge the rules and conventional thinking.

One of my friends, Kurt Johnson, lives in Seattle. Kurt is the silliest person I know. He truly has a child’s spirit and curiosity. No “periods” with him; he’s all question marks and exclamation points! He has worked with both children and adults in his ministry through the years. He actually prefers working with children because they let him be who he is and are not critical. He is the free-est and most creative when in the presence of children. They just love him. You never quite know what Mr. J (as the kids call him) is going to do. He is a breath of fresh air; but many adults can’t handle it. A rubber chicken hangs from his pants pocket wherever he goes. Silliness bubbles out of him like laughter from children.

Here are a few suggestions on developing silliness:

  • Spend some time hanging out with the silliest, free-est and craziest people you know so you can  harvest some wild and silly ideas.
  • Read some children’s books. Dr. Seuss, for example. He is as silly as they come. Or, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” by C. S. Lewis.
  • Do something for the first time that scares you and makes you look foolish. It might surprise you how much people enjoy it and how much creativity it ignites.
  • Subscribe to a creative, wild magazine like “Wired,” or read a creative book like, “ A Whack On the Side of the Head,” by Roger Von Oech.

Go on, BE SILLY! You might like it, “Sam I am”!

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