The Sarcastic Leader

June 20, 2015

Can you be sarcastic and become a great leader? Though you may gain some friends and even form a small following with this type of humor, you ultimately will not be a strong leader. Sarcasm will hinder your overall effectiveness.

Sarcastic people may defend their sarcasm because it can help create levity and ease tension in certain situations. And while this may be true in the short term, it can also have unintended long-term consequences.

Growing up I was led to believe sarcasm was a respectable form of humor. It was only later that I discovered sarcasm is really passive-aggressive communication that can undermine trust. Oscar Wilde called sarcasm the lowest form of wit.

Defined simply, sarcasm is when someone says something that everyone knows is untrue in order to draw attention to its ridiculousness. It is typically a sharp, biting or cutting remark, which requires face-to-face vocal communication and is context dependent.

Sarcasm can also make someone feel superior in situations where they perceive they have little control. Though an occasional biting comment can spark a good laugh, frequent sarcasm tends to reflect dissatisfaction that may be rooted in what psychologists believe is anger and hostility.

Sarcasm ultimately offers only two outcomes: it can instantly kill a relationship or slowly erode it. That’s because sarcastic humor typically depends on the derision of a person, relationship or circumstance. The fact is sarcasm requires a victim.

This certainly doesn’t make sarcasm the kind of trait we look for in leaders.

Leaders need to be trusted, focused and decisive; sarcastic humor undermines all three of these.

Sarcastic leaders can’t be trusted because, as a person with authority over others, your words carry added weight. Making fun of someone through sarcasm—even in a light-hearted way—can have a subtle effect causing the people you lead to doubt your trust in them, undermining their trust in you.

Trust is difficult to earn and takes a long time to rebuild. Don’t let yours be damaged for short-term levity.

Leaders need to be focused and not ambiguous. Sarcasm relies heavily on tone of voice, body language and other nonverbal cues to be properly understood. That’s why sarcastic comments are typically lost when done over the phone or in writing.

Sarcasm allows one to claim some sort of authority without actually taking responsibility for what is said. Lack of a focused message means your leadership is compromised and sarcasm only accentuates this.

Decisiveness is also a necessity in leaders and sarcastic comments are typically directed on problems rather than solutions. Being decisive requires moving beyond the problem no matter how ridiculous it may be. Pointing out the humor only delays finding a constructive way to fix it. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun seeking solutions only don’t use sarcasm as it will only further delay your decision-making.

Sarcasm breeds negativity by discouraging others to focus on what’s wrong rather than on how to fix it. This is the opposite of what a leader should do.

Next time you’re faced with a ridiculous situation and a sarcastic remark comes to mind, hold back and see if you can respond more proactively instead. You may not get the immediate endorphin rush you’re used to, but you will find the way you’re perceived by others will ultimately be more respectful and help build stronger relationships.

Leaders look long term and don’t require the immediate rush of laughter to build their confidence. Focus on solutions rather than problems, nourish relationships without negativity, and always seek to build trust with your co-workers.

Find a way to bring levity into the workplace without sarcasm. It’s better for you and for the organization.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/5799872822″>National Sarcasm Society</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>