The Humourology Podcast with René Carayol
– Do a job that you love, you never work a day in your life, smile and enjoy the mastery of emotional intelligence, the ability to be the butt of jokes for others especially those who work for you, Lightens the atmosphere, enables them to get to know you, trust you, and you know what happens when people trust you, they go the extra mile. Welcome to the Humourology Podcast, with me Paul Boross, my glittering lineup of guests from the worlds of business, sport and comedy, who are going to share their wisdom, and their use of humour with you. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business success and your life. Humourology puts the fun into business fundamentals, increases the value of your laughing stock, and puts a punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to like subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. My guest on this edition of the Humourology podcast is one of the world’s leading business gurus, specialising in leadership, culture and transformation, as a top executive coach, he walks the walk, and having been Chairman CEO and MD of Blue chip businesses, he also definitely talks the talk. He has shared stages with the biggest business bohemoths, and boardrooms with the brilliant leadership trailblazers, his Seminole book, Spike, encourages people to focus on inherent strengths, his many strengths were recognised when a few years ago the queen awarded him an MBE, Rene Carayol, Welcome to the Humourology podcast.
– That’s a hell of an opening. It’s all downhill from here Paul.
– Well, fortunately it’s about humour Rene, so, first question is humour important in business?
– Not just important, essential, look, in a tough fast paced, stressful, highly competitive, difficult, ambiguous world, which is quite unforgiving, that’s a tough old place to walk into every day, knowing that you’re going to be amongst a bunch of people who don’t take themselves too seriously, who will take time out to just laugh at themselves, laugh with each other and just care for each other, how fabulous! And you know, at the moment as we’re many of us are working from home, it’s even more important, and clocking in to see how someone is and having a moment to just say, are you okay, have a laugh, a bit of levity, break some of the monotony of the moment, everyone knows productivity is going through the roof, but morale may not be where it needs to be, so a little light, especially, if it’s from your line manager, how wonderful is that? They’re not coming in to say how’re the KPI’s, how’s the old profit line, but to say, just to have a laugh and laugh for themselves, if the boss laughs at themselves then everyone relaxes a little bit more and tries a little bit harder.
– That’s fascinating because that thing that if the boss laughs at themselves, so, do you intrinsically think that it starts at the top?
– So when we say that, if the leader is comfortable going to their vulnerable edge, you know, letting their teams know that they’re fallible too, they make mistakes too, an attitude of the only mistake is the one we don’t learn from, you know, the old Covey story, the leader takes their team through the darkest jungle, It’s four days it’s deng fever, It’s malaria, It’s chopping through the undergrowth, they’re running out of water, people are getting a bit techy, the leader climbs up the tallest tree looks around and shouts out “hey guys, wrong jungle,” hang on a minute, he’s lost his marbles, no that makes you more human, people will actually trust you even more because you fessed up. I don’t want to spoil this podcast where bringing up the name, Dominic Cummings, but wouldn’t it be different if he just fessed up? If we just said, you know what, I’ve got it wrong guys, I panicked. I stepped out line. I’m really sorry… Being Brits, we would have forgiven him in seconds.
– For our international listeners, I’m probably thinking they have heard of Dominic Cummings but Dominic Cummings is the advisor to Boris Johnson, our prime minister, who managed to, well I don’t know if the word is gaslight people, but managed to try say to people that he went on a 60 mile round trip to test his out his eyesight, and frankly, that is astonishing to me that somebody would think they would do it, and I think you’re a 100% right. For you foreign listeners, that was taking the mick.
– We can say it’s a podcast, we can say taking the piss, Rene.
– If so, the one question and under review for, you drove 60 miles to test your eyesight? I don’t know why someone didn’t just say, “Are you taking a piss? You’re just ridiculous, but back to my point, the leader is prepared to say I got it wrong, especially in a less than serious way, they’re enabling everyone else around them to try harder without fear, it means that if I do fail I know I can talk to the boss about it, ’cause he’s not perfect either.
– Brilliant, What makes you laugh Rene?
– Did everything and anything, you know, I’ve learned through life, in my younger days, when you’re trying to climb up that greasy pole, I was a bit too intense, a bit too serious, never relaxing, every day you’re on show, every day you’re on stage and it wears you out, it just wears you out, and the prize you’re aiming for it doesn’t feel that glittering when you get there, when you’ve worked 15, 16 hour days, you haven’t smiled, you’re a bit too intense, so I realised that you got to break that up, do a job that you love, you never work a day in your life, smile and enjoy. The mastery of emotional intelligence, the ability to be the butt of jokes for others especially those who work for you, lightens the atmosphere, enables them to get to know you, trust you, and you know what happens when people trust you, they go the extra mile.
– I couldn’t agree more, and it’s lovely to hear you actually put it in those terms because as somebody who executive coaches people all the time, do you have to remind the people that you are working with, that that is as important, that humanising factor as you put it?
– So one of the jobs I have to do on a regular basis
– far too often for my liking is to have that, to take someone for lunch, knowing that I’m the only one coming back, right? So in the executive team, it hasn’t worked we’ve signposted, we’ve signalled it, you’ve had the… you have the appraisals we’ve had the managing performance we’ve done everything, and there’s nowhere else to go now, that I’ve got to have that very difficult conversation… we’re going to go to lunch and believe you me at that at that moment, when it’s, I’m not forgetting for a moment that’s someone’s livelihood, I’m not forgetting for a moment that this is serious, it could be hurtful, but we can have a real conversation, I can share with them the times when I’ve been asked to leave, when it was my fault, bring a bit of humour into it, take the tension out of the environment, it’s never a great moment, and that night I know I’m not going to sleep, ’cause the day I sleep is the day I stopped doing this, but I also know that in all the people I’ve had to be privy to, party to them going, there’s only one person has never spoken to me afterwards and it’s in hundreds, I like to think those relationships, I retain them, It’s important to me, and when they do leave that organisation, I’m usually involved in helping them get their next position, and humour underlies that, you know, this may not be the best day of your life, but you know what, we’re going to remain friends through this, and I’m going to get you into an environment where you’re better appreciated.
– That reminds me of a quote from Dr. Richard Bandler who said, “you know, people say one day you’re going to look back on this and laugh, why wait?”
– Oh dear, sounds like my daughter when she’s asking for an increase in her allowance.
– Well, aren’t children the best salespeople in the world?
– Especially the most expensive daughter in the Northern hemisphere, which I…
– Don’t worry, my sons will run her close I think. Do you have any funny stories about something that’s happened to you, that you can now laugh at?
– One of the low points in my career, you know, you get lots of low points, but you balance them out by finding that light touch within it. that is interesting one for this is in the moment that black lives matter, the black lives matter movement is moving the racial tectonic plates in a way I’ve never seen. Back in the day, this is my maybe eight, nine years ago, I get a call, It’s a great gig, I’m doing a talk for Siemens, you know, the Europe’s largest electronics until you could say technology company at the time, German very well organised and brilliant at what they do, but I was first thing in the morning, I was giving a talk in Stockholm and then I was going to have to get to Dusseldorf, to do in the afternoon, I’m going to be giving a talk, giving a keynote and interviewing the group Chief Executive. As life would have it, the flight from Stockholm is delayed and all of a sudden everything and remember of my team Jackie she’s in Dusseldorf, waiting for me setting everything up and it was going to be tight anyway, I get a message on the phone, it says, “when you land in when you land in Dusseldorf just come outside and there’ll be a motorbike rider waiting for you, forget your luggage, you’ll have a crash helmet, get on the back and we’re going to get you to the gig on time.” It’s a bit James Bond, I land, I come out, leave my luggage just go straight outside, this guy I see him waving, pull on the crash helmet I’m holding on to him, he doesn’t even stay on the autobahn, he’s going in and out…I just close my eyes before we know, I’m soaked in sweat and I get there, jump off, run to the front and the Chief Executives is there standing and Jackie says, go to the back,
– they’re waiting for you at the back – come straight on the stage and go straight on stage, we’re ready for you to go, you’ve got five minutes, I sprint, get to the back, when I get there, there’s a man in uniform and he says, I said, look, I’ve got to get on stage my name is Rene Carayol, I’m coming to do this and he says, noone’s passing. I said, “what do you mean?” He said, I’ve been told no one comes through the door. The Chief Executive says, no he says, no one’s passing, I run back to the front, get the Chief Executive me and him run to the back, we get there and the guy says, “no one is passing” “Do you know who I am speech?” “I don’t care who you are, no one is passing.” We run back to the front, I go around the front, onto the stage, do the gig, at the end of the gig, the Chief Executive says to me, “I want you to come with me.” comes in, we go to the back, the guys there at the back, and he says,” you do realise I’m Chief Executive, you made him walk around the front.” and he said to him, “fantastic job, Well done, I like a man who sticks to their orders.” Right? Germany. He finishes. I’m shocked, but it says everything about different cultures, Anyway, we shake hands got on really well, I run upstairs, I get changed and I’m going to be driving, ’cause we’re going to the airport quickly we’ve got a car there that Jackie has booked. And when I run downstairs, Jackie’s sitting in the car it’s a big black Mercedes S500, and I jump in the back and as I jump in the back, I look in the front and there’s the Chief Executive sitting in the front with his wife and no Jackie, at that moment, he says something, no it’s the other way round, he’s sitting in the back, I go in the front ’cause I want to drive sitting back with his wife, and he barks something, which – my German’s not brilliant – but even I could work out, it was ‘get a move on’, I think, hang on a minute, this isn’t what was planned. Jackie comes down, opens the front door, says, “Oh, are we giving them a lift?” He looks, I look, there’s another black Mercedes right in front of us with a driver in it. So we look at each other, we stare and if the ground could open up to bury him, it would have done. I got out, he got out, we hugged, we laughed, ,nervously, shook, hands, went our way, when I go back to London, which is the following day, that afternoon, classy case of champagne handwritten note of apology, and he said, “I taught you a lesson in the morning with the guy at the back, you taught me a lesson in the afternoon, thank you very much, indeed.”
– That’s an amazing, but actually for him to recognise that was was really a big thing for him.
– So tough moment, serious moment, humorous moments.
– Well, yeah, and what bonded you together was the humour.
– We learned through wrong assumptions, but I think the big lesson there is have the personality to diffuse the situation. It could have turned out very differently
– Of course, yeah, and by the way it was your attitude that changed the whole thing, and humour is about attitude, is it not?
– And I think it’s about accessibility, don’t take yourself too seriously, a little bit of emotional intelligence, walk in the shoes of the other person.
– Well that’s attitude and accessibility, I like that, I’m going to use that. Is everyone funny, Rene?
– Everyone can be, some people don’t want to be, but you know, I think everyone can be, and it’s not about telling gags, telling jokes, sometimes it’s just that second look, that click, And you see so many times when mothers are telling the kids off, she just pauses, smiles and they run and go and do it because she’s just created that little moment of laughter, why wouldn’t you? And it breaks all the tension. Sometimes I just wonder – especially when I look at some of the leaders of our biggest businesses, our heads of state, just to have a little moment that wry little smile, that little wink, breaks all the tension. You know, I saw the other day when Jacinda Ardern – the fabulous prime minister of New Zealand – was being interviewed and there was an earthquake, right in the middle of the set, and she went, “Oh, that was an earthquake, do carry on.” Just in the moment, just in that, and if your head of state is not going to panic, and take it, it is what message will that send to others, the smile was what everyone saw, wonderful, genius.
– So why don’t the people who don’t get it which I think would be the majority who don’t get it, why don’t they understand that, is it because they’re too intense, they’ve got their attention on the bottom line or, you know– There’s a bit of that. Ego is the opposite of empathy. Empathy is the opposite of ego, and most the great comedians have this amazing empathy with their audiences, they know they seem to know instinctively where the boundaries are and they’ll go and touch the boundaries and just not go over the edge, ’cause the best humour is a little bit edgy, it’s sort of finding the caricature in someone who’s very serious. it’s finding the soft underbelly of a serious moment, but not doing it in a way that undermines people, but just breaks the tension, allows everyone just to breathe easily, I find, I get involved within interviewing big Chief Executive Chairman, and my job normally is to ask the questions that no one would ever dare ask, but ask them in a way for the audience it seems as though you’re… my god, that’s tough, that’s straight talking, but I’m giving the boss a narrative, giving the leader a narrative, making them feel more human, and I remember doing John Varley when he was Chief Executive of Barclays. and I worked with John for three years, we’re very close and he never did a talk without me being there to interview him, on this particular situation was a really tough moment, a really tough moment, Were Barclays going to need government bailing out or not? And I was coming out and we’d had this very intense, Let me ask you again. Are Barlays going to remain independent? and he said, “I don’t care, how many times you ask me, I want to tell you straight, we are going to remain independent.” And you could feel the tension in the room and I said to him, he said, “can we talk about something else?” I said, yes, let’s talk about your family, he said I don’t want to talk about my family, I said I do, everyone wants to listen about it. He said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” He said, “look, I’m married, I’ve got two kids, I don’t need to talk about it.” I said, “Who are you married to?” And he just froze, couldn’t speak, “Doesn’t she have a name?” And eventually he just burst out laughing, he said, it’s Rachel. And all of us, it was just gold dust. and from that moment, it just made him more human, John was, I would say I’ve been privileged to… one of the best leaders I’ve had the opportunity to work with, but he’s a bit straight, a bit stiff, If you ask him a question, you’ll get a forensic answer, It was no real room for anything but after that moment, he just became more accessible,
– Is isn’t that the key though you have to give him credit for, because you said that he always had you there for those three years interviewing him. so on some level he recognised it, and–
– We did an event once, at The Globe, the loads of Barclays people there and one of the guys had just a little, a glass, too many, John was held up in a board meeting, I was holding the floor, tap dancing and waiting for him to come through, and because I was in my black suit, white shirt in uniform waiting to interview John, when he came in he knows holding the floor wherever he comes in we’ll get on it. And this guy comes up to me he says, can I have a glass of chill white wine please. Yes, of course. So I go down, come off the stage, get down, go to the catering team back, get him a glass of wine come and give it to him, and the whole room just went… So he finishes that and comes up to me and says “can I have another glass of that chilled wine? I said, well can you wait? He said,” no, can I have it now?” And at that moment, John walks in and says, “I’ll get you the glass of wine.” If you felt that, everybody laughs, guess how he felt. It was just in a moment, and everyone in the room laughed, everyone learnt a lesson, and later on at the end, when we finished, he came up to me and went, “I don’t know what to say,” I said, “you don’t have to say anything, don’t worry about it, it’s cool, we all make mistakes.” “I’m so, so sorry.” I said, “Don’t worry about it.”
– Well, I mean, that’s just indicative of great leadership to actually do that, but these things happen a lot. What’s your, I mean, we are right in the midst when we’re recording this of the Black Lives Matter, And they’ve just announced that certain comedy shows which is relevant to what we’re talking about have been pulled, and I wanted to get your take on that, and whether that has an effect on the psyche because I have a belief that it does, but you know, let me know your thoughts. You know Paul, I’m surprised that people get het up about it, you know, they pulled Gone With the Wind the other day and you know, perhaps one of my favourite films but I do have to swallow hard through some of it, some of the scenes in the set pieces on slavery, I prefer if they edited the film, if I’m honest with you, it just has no place today, that I think that if we’re really honest about it, there’s nothing lasts forever, we know that we’re in a world that constantly changes, today’s Pristine Strategies tomorrow’s Obsolescence, we get hung up about the statues, come on their statutes don’t need to be there forever, they celebrated a particular time, particular hero did something amazing at a time, they don’t last forever, and you know, there’ll come a time in the future when people look at Mandela and say “it’s a bit dated,” it’s a bit irrelevant, His time has gone, the heroes, the Greek heroes aren’t Archimedes, Plato, Aristotle, we don’t see them around anymore, the world just moves on, let’s go get het up about it. and to me, today’s heroes are tomorrow’s obsolescence, that’s just life, and to me, I was watching this morning on the news they were saying that one of my favourite episodes of Basil Fawlty was highly inappropriate today, it happens, it just happens, there are enough great Basil Fawlty to watch which don’t have the goose stepping and be, you know , the rest of it, and let’s, I don’t want to denigrate John Cleese and Connie Booth at all, heroes of comedy, but there is appropriateness, and I think there’s a generation now who weren’t around them, didn’t understand the context, the language has changed the glossary of terms of change, the inappropriateness, and sometimes I look back at the way women were portrayed on Miss World circa 1960 whatever, you just cringe,
– [Rene] Comedy is not going to have to move.
– I completely agree and I don’t think that anybody is missing Love Thy Neighbour nobody’s on the streets running around going, we need that because it was indicative of the time.
– So yesterday Harry Enfield was on Radio 4 right at the end, and he was talking about this humour, Black Lives Matter, and he used a term that was commonplace in Til Death Us Do Part back in the day, and the BBC got an avalanche of criticism, the world just moves on and let’s be clear there are some people that can’t move on, that’s your problem, the rest of society is going to leave you behind,
– Just a little going a bit further with that, you work with some of the biggest leaders in the world and you sort of do keynotes, and you rub shoulders with those leaders. It’s also incumbent on the leaders to show not just from a laughter point of view, but from a what is tolerant kind of view and isn’t that why we’re sort of in the place we are now when you have a leader, I’ll call it out I’ll say like Trump, who isn’t putting people.
– Some things are happening that have never… Me and some of my mates, people of colour, we’ve grown up in central London, in the inner city and some of the things and whatever you choose to call, they are all given different names as it’s systemic racism, is it unconscious bias, is it institutionalised racism, is it implicit bias? All those sorts of things that we’ve lived with all our lives and in many respects shoved aside and got on with it. You get to 60, and you think it’s not going to change in my generation, in two weeks, the tectonic plates of race have moved more than it moved in the six years I’ve been on the planet, it’s unbelievable, and if I think of the lives have been lost in sacrificed for all the noise that we’re getting from those who 137,000 people marched 135 were arrested, why are we talking about 135 and not 137,000? Perspective. It’s more has been done in two weeks, but I really I feel really positive about this because I think, do you know what? There’s always going to be a two or three people that are at the top, but let’s look at the mainstream. Model Half is ,she’s of Indian origin and her daughter Priya is 13, and because they’re all studying online from home at the moment, the school rung up, rung my other half and said your daughter has put her hand up and said she wants to go on the Black Lives Matter march. And when asked the rest of the class what they thought, half the class put up their hands and said, they want to go as well. So, I’m going to social distance them but I’m going to escort them, okay. Are you comfortable with that? And that’s the reality… in my time that would have never happened, and Shivata’s saying to me, what do you think? I said, “I don’t think they’re asking you for your permission, I think they’re going.” I think they going and we both looked at each other, laughed, just thought, you know what, how wonderful is that?
– Well, I mean, I think it is wonderful and you know, my son have the same opinion, my son is 19, and he has that… there’s a completely different mindset which is so refreshing that they presuming everybody is the same before looking for difference, you know, they’re quite shocked to see that anybody else is seeing it, not through their eyes.
– And, I love that, it’s going to happen. It won’t be managed, it’s not going to be clean and nice, it won’t have a KPI, it won’t have a business plan, it is going to happen. And I think neutrality you’re opposing it, it’s like lots of things are happening to that, you know, you can’t prevent the smartphone, without a smartphone that picture of George Floyd would not being taken, you can’t front social media, so let’s take it with good humour, embrace it, and be part of the change on the right side of history.
– Exactly, and I think humour actually plays into it a lot because you just mentioned the smartphone but actually we now have the ability to send text messages, and messages with funny things, you know, with pictures of, you know, Trump saying things like, “I did not say those things you heard me say,” you know, and what does that do? Humour, pricks, the bubble of hypocrisy, and now everybody can instantly send a meme that pricks that bubble, so I think if humour is also a force for good in that sense.
– It’s what diffuses any tension, I was in South Africa. I do a lot of work in South Africa, I was working with Barclays Africa Absa bank and the leadership there, and one Saturday morning, I’m in a swim pool in Houghton, and there’s a bunch of guys, maybe eight or 10 guys playing water polo, they’re probably in their fifties, they’re not that brilliant but they’re thoroughly enjoying themselves, and I look behind me, there’s a small black guy sitting behind me, Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela. I just think, Whoa! Anyway, when they finished they all cheering, laughing, they’ve obviously come in there every week and they play and someone’s keeping the score and they’re having a drink. He walks up and says, “Excuse me, gentlemen, what game is this?” And they say “Water polo” and they’re all standing to attention being very polite in their Speedos, and he says, “why are there no black players?” He said, well, we’re just friends from university, we’ve been doing this for the last 25 years or so, we just turn up on a Saturday and we’d play. And he says, “But why are there no black players?” It’s not a sport that’s ever really gripped the black people they aren’t really getting to the swimming, they don’t really get into the water polo, “if I come next week, will you teach me how to play?” And walks off, wonderful. They all laugh a little nervously but what a lovely little lesson to use a little bit of humour, just to lodge a little message in someone’s mind. Confrontation is a waste of time, find a different way of doing it.
– What would the world be like without humour?
– Oh, barren, barren, too serious. So, my next door neighbour, lovely woman Michelle. She could moan for England you know, no matter what day of the week it is, she’s going to moan. We’re at the gate, and she says, “what’s up with the post? The post is getting later, later, later.” And in that moment up comes Pete, been our postie for the last 25, 30 years, so I thought I’m going to cure this. “So Pete, what’s happening with the post?” Michelle tells me it’s getting late and later. He looks a bit sheepish looks up and he says, “She’s right it is getting a bit later.” I think, oh no, that’s the last thing I needed to hear, It’s going to feed the beast, and he said, “is Roger at 88, he’s getting on a bit, he’s losing his eyesight, I don’t just give him his post now I sit down and read out to him every day.” And I look for Michelle and she’s gone, she’s not going to be moaning anymore, is she?! She’s gone. I think there’s a lesson here Paul, that I love, people say to me, what do I do during the pandemic, how do I get through the crisis? Look out for each other, look after each other, if that’s what we do, the world will be a better place, find the moment to smile, just find a moment to have a little smile.
– But also laugh at yourself, and laugh. Do you think that’s important as well?
– The day we lose the ability to laugh at ourselves, give it up. And in a way I take us, so, there’s a couple of interesting facts here, it’s there is no nation led by a woman that’s handling the Coronavirus badly, that’s the first point, no nation led by a woman is doing it badly. The top 50 nations for infections and deaths are all run by alpha males, big Trump, Boris, Ertegun in Turkey, China, though big powerful.. don’t listen, don’t collaborate, don’t laugh at themselves, no sense of humour, take themselves too seriously, the only voice you can hear didn’t take the Corona virus seriously at the start, they all started late behind the eight ball, whereas what happened with the women? They didn’t take themselves too seriously, they took the pandemic seriously, they kicked off really early, as we sit here in London, we’ve got the mess of quarantine or not, lock down or not, open stores or not?… There’s no clarity.
– And actually, I think the thing about humour is that it levels off everything, and also humour builds to a point you know, there’s a point to it, you’ve got to get to the punchline, so maybe there is a correlation between sort of understanding humour, and getting stuff done, I mean, do you think there’s enough humour in the workplace?
– So I spent 10 years working at Marks and Spencer’s we had a company archivist, Paul Bookbinder, and he used to keep up the story of Marks and Spencer it’s is over a 100 years old and all that sort of stuff, and I’ll never forget the first time I’d heard him speak, he told a little story – you know those little stories in the workplace. Our Chief Executive, Rick Greenbury, he was brilliant, a genius, but everyone was petrified of him. And Paul tells a story that he’s got into the lift, he’s come into work a bit late, and he’s trying to get to his desk as soon as he can he’s 20 minutes late, and just as the lift door closes Rick Greenbury presses a lift door, and as the doors open, he comes in and he says, “late again, Bookbinder?” And he says, “yes so am I, Sir” “Yes so am I” And he’s just, in the workplace and all of a sudden Rick was made to be human.
– Brilliant, If I asked you to write a business case for humour, what would you include in it?
– Very straightforward, happy people equals happy customers, done.
– And is that because as a psychologist, I always like the saying that if you want anybody to go into any state, you have to go into that state first, and isn’t that true of every level of business.
– If you’re pushing your people too hard, if their fear of failure is high and they’re not prepared to step outside of the envelope because they fear retribution, or being scolded, make them happy. You can tell when you walk into any restaurant, whether the people that are coming to serve you are happy, and if they’re happy, what does it do for the mood music for evening, as opposed to if they’re so scared they’re asking every three minutes, ‘everything okay’ as opposed to having a conversation with you, having a smile, so we say very simply happy people, happy customers, happy profits.
– So that would be your return on investment really, if you it’s a huge ROI, isn’t it? Have you actually seen?
– The ROI, is Return On Involvement.
– Oh, tell me a little bit more about that then.
– I think that the days when the leader solved every problem, initiated every strategy, made every decision, they’re long gone, the world’s too fast moving, too ambiguous, too complex, and nowadays every voice needs to be heard, and those close to the customer have most of the ideas, so collaboration is the new leadership, ROI is Return On Involvement, get everyone involved.
– Have you ever taken a joke to far or, you know, cross the line?
– Just about every day, the beauty of what I do every day with my other half the only reason I get away with it is that she’s even worse than I am. So, I’ll always overstep that little bit and she’s fast to come in, she can hold her own but do you know, it’s what keeps us together. You know, there’s never a day where she’s not ribbing me, I’m not ribbing her, and because we’re close and know each other really well we finish each other’s sentences, no holds barred, so when I’m taking myself a little bit too seriously it’s three o’clock in the morning, I’m still trying to find the closer to that piece I’m doing, I can predict what’s coming out of the bedroom, It’s abuse, total abuse, no holds barred, and I can’t help myself, I laugh, and I’m back in there.
– When you’re working with sort of leaders in business, do you take some of that? Because I do, I must say I find that a teasing attitude as I call it actually has much more efficacy when you’re trying to persuade somebody to change.
– Love it, and I think I’d go even a stage further that, nowadays, I think we used to look, we were obsessed with the best person for the job, today, we look for the best person in the team, and every leader is as unique as their fingerprints so their team needs to be unique to compensate with things they’re not so good at, It’s no longer feasible one person to be that board but the team can be that board, but what I always look for in the team… who’s the diffusing engine, who’s the person that, when it all gets a bit tough, they’re going to break the ice with little bit of humour, who’s the person that’s going to volunteer but knowing full well, they’re the last person on earth they would give this task to, but because they’ve taken the responsibility of volunteering, it slightly embarrasses everyone else, There’s a break in the atmosphere, people laugh, you can’t possibly do, no leave it with me I’ll take off you. And you need that person, the person who’s prepared to push themselves forward not afraid to, you know, it’s the Court Jester from back in the day, to say the things that the King wanted said but says it in a jocular way that breaks all the tension, but you know, they’re making a serious point, that Court Jester wasn’t the corporate fool, they were the persons who had the courage to say the things that no one dared, but do it in a way that diffuse the tensions.
– I just love the term diffusing agent and with, you know, sort of Fortune 500 companies, do you think they should be actually putting ads in the paper, Wanted Diffusing Agent – must wear bells on his hat, you know, but I’m serious actually.
– I know you are, we have them, you know, everywhere you’ve worked you’ve had them and it’s male or female, jew or gentile, old or young, it’s that person that, and sometimes they’ve got the most deadpan face you’ve ever seen in the world, but it’s the timing, the moment, just when someone’s head is about to be cleaved off a little intervention and everyone leans back again.
– I think that’s fascinating that somebody who has worked at high-end organisations all around the world as you, actually recognises that this is a key component of something that actually can affect the bottom line.
– Paul, sometimes it has to be me but I’m role modelling it for someone else, so can you imagine, I’m in the I’m in the executive suite, 16 of us, the business is the largest flotation in Europe in 2017, we’ve had two profit warnings for the two previous quarters, if there’s a third one, the Chief Executive who I’m looking after is gone. We’re in there looking at the numbers, they do not look good. Can you imagine the atmosphere, when the chairman has already called me in and said that, three strikes and he’s out and we’re in there and I can see the numbers there’s a few negative surprises, and I say stop, can we just stop for a moment. Everyone is spoken as being slightly less than the person before, can you guys swap chairs a bit? So we get a bit of good news before we get to the end of the bad news, and the tension just stopped, every everyone just stopped, and two of the guys said, “can we take a 10 minute break, I’d like to kind of revisit my numbers.” When they came back they had the right answers, don’t know how they juggled it, we got the right answers. We avoided what was going to be just the inevitable departure of the Chief Executive, without the little joke of changing chairs, ’cause as far as I was concerned, it’s all over bar the shouting, but sometimes just take a moment, and we changed the course of history.
– Do you think that enough companies are realising this or enough businesses? I mean, this could take, you know, because our listeners are small companies they’re big corporates, they’re everyone – are realising the actual power that lies beneath.
– No they’re not, and I think what’s interesting is when it happens, it’s remembered by everyone and it doesn’t go away, you know, and it’s little moments, and you, the thing about the little moments is they become stories, those stories get fed into the corporate grapevine, those stories they’re usually catching people doing things right, they change the culture better than any engagement survey, than any bunch of consultants, just a story where my people did things brilliantly and I’m going to praise them, and push it down into the grapevine. So, I looked after Ralph Hamers, Chief Executive ING bank, I was there at the beginning with him, he’s been there seven… it’s just been announced Ralph is going to be Chief Executive of UBS bank now, and I’m going to do the final interview for him which I did the first one, but sort of a year in, and it was an austerity period, the Dutch government just bailed out ING bank to the tune of 9 billion euros, and for the first Christmas, Ralph says we’ve got to send the right messages, no big parties, no big expenditure, but if you want to have a party, have them in your offices, you can wear frocks or black tie, but in your offices, okay, so I can invite you to Ralph’s party and it’s black tie, it’s frocks and everyone’s coming with their partners, and it’s a really nice old do, low key Amsterdam cheap and cheerful, but on message. And his group HR director Heine comes in and Heine’s a good friend of mine, he’s the guy who introduced me to the organisation the first place and Heine comes in and everyone is coming in, as you come in, Ralph and his wife was standing at the door and they shake the hands of the male partner and Ralph would instinctively kiss the female partner on both cheeks in a very European way. Heine comes in and Heine had been out for many years, It was clear to all of us that, you know, Heine was gay, Heine was very proud of it, and they always Heines partner never met him. Heine turns up with his partner, and he’s the most disgracefully handsome, Cuban modern dancer you have ever seen, and he’s too handsome for words and sculpted, and they look special together, as they come in, Ralph and his wife, they just instinctively shake hands with Heine and instinctively Ralph kisses, his partner on both cheeks the way he’d done everyone else, and they came in and none of us said anything but symbolically, Paul, it was just beautiful, you couldn’t have scripted it, and it set an atmosphere, anyway, about three minutes later, I get a text on my phone from the head of communications for ING, who’s a good mate of mine, he says, “is it true, Heine came in with his partner?,” you know, within three minutes, guess what that does for diversity inclusion in ING. Sometimes it’s just that little story, and for those of us in the room, we were beaming for the rest of the night, no one said anything about it, they just, what a wonderful atmosphere to celebrate Christmas in.
– Oh, 100% actually going to the opposite end of this, have you ever gotten into trouble through using humour?
– Constantly. I think on occasion, you know, I’ll tell you where I get in trouble most of the time when I’m seeing the boss, usually the Chief Executive or the Chairman going a little too far in a public situation. You know, when we know the rules we praise in public, we tell off in private but every now and again, you know, none of us are perfect, and my job usually is to stand between them, and is it, and I’m not never sure is it defending the more junior person, or is it defending the more senior person? I don’t know which one is, I just know that it’s wrong and the first 15 seconds, and what I always try and do is use a bit of humour, you could repeat that, could you? or could you say that any louder? And you know, at that moment you see the eyes, the first five seconds on us is two seconds pretty ropey but everyone’s usually smart enough to know it’s just saved me from going completely OTT in public. You’ve got to swallow hard, I still get the dry throat, you still get the sweaty palms, but you know, you’ve got to say, “wow! could you say that any louder than you did” and everyone ducks for cover, what I’m really saying is get ahold of yourself as quickly as you possibly can.
– But is that easier being somebody who is not in the moment because I think I have the same thing.
– Not being on the payroll is what really helps, is very odd for a direct report to say that if you’re part of the body politic, you’re part of the corporate, but you know, it’s still hard when you’re not on the payroll, even though I know I can’t be fired but I can still be escorted off the premises, and I’ve had that.
– Well, but by the way, I would say that you’re doing your job really well If you’re a escorted off the premises because you are following your instincts, and what I suspect is that the Court Jesters weren’t P.A.Y.E back in the day, they were in, in and out, if you see what I mean, rather than direct.
– I was in Aviva, you know the Gherkin?
– It was serious negotiations taking place on the 23rd of December, particularly you remember it ’cause it was the day before Christmas eve, and I get the call that a severance negotiation broken down, could I come in and represent one of the executives. As I was just cracking open a bottle of champagne put it down, jump into car get down there, and I’m in my civvies, ’cause it’s 23rd lunchtime and we’re off, so I get ther, and I sit there and I’m told I’m going to be negotiating with the chairman of Aviva, not met him before, and I’m sitting there – I register at the desk – and they say to me there’s a special lift over there in the corner, that’s just for the chairman his PA We’ll come down and pick you up and take you up there. It’s about $38,000 lifts, but this is telling me a little bit about the culture, right, so I sit down there and off about 20 minutes, she was obviously the chairman’s PA. she looked, she carried herself with a dignity and an integrity, you just knew you know the two piece black suit the pearls, everything, she just looked it – the part; professional proper and she floated across the floor, she comes over and she goes to the desk and they point her in my direction and there’s me, and there’s a guy sitting next to me who’s a courier in lycra, with a cycling cap and that bleeping walkie talkie thing, and he’s got satchel over his arm, and she came over and she stood in front of us and shock horror, “which one’s Renee Carayol?” And I couldn’t believe this, and she could see the dilemma she’s looking left and right, and I’m thinking, why don’t I just lean back and enjoy this, and after what seemed like a lifetime but it could be no more than about six seconds, she chose the courier. Said Mr. Carayol and he went, “pardon?” Said Mr. Carayol? I said, “I think you’ll find that’s me.” She just froze, but I’m going to take advantage of this now ’cause I’m going to go and do a hell of a negotiation, so as we walking into the lift and she’s wanting to die, I say, “so what’s the chairman like then, how do I get onto his good side, what do I need to do to ensure that we have…” she said, “he’s got a great sense of humour, crack a joke early and then you’ll have him.” When I got in, I cracked a joke early on, I had him.
– [Rene] Never get angry.
– Well in business, is it survival of the fittest or survival of the funniest.
– Fabulously insightful question, if you want to survive on the law of the jungle, and it’s just the fitness, but if you want to thrive, if you want to do more than survive, you want to thrive and don’t take yourself too seriously, take a moment to share a laugh with a few people. That’s where you go beyond surviving to thriving, and I think it’s a combination, you’ve got to be good at your job, you’ve got to be able to deliver, you got to do all those sort of things, but I think the bit, and I put humour on the same length as E Q emotional intelligence. And you know, it’s those who walk into the room and instinctively, you know, I got to take this down a notch or two. This is all getting a bit too tense, and especially now I’m seeing now that we’ve got strange what I call strange bedfellows, rivals having to work together, working on a vaccine together so, you know, is it Novartis working with AstraZeneca? How do you walk into that room and get rid of the tensions and make people loosen up a bit to work together? And I’ll say collaborations and new leadership humour works, especially if you’re as long in the tooth as I am, I’ve worked with AstraZeneca, I’ve worked with Novartis, and I can say things they can’t say, I’ll say you guys are near geniuses if only you had personalities. You guys, I’ve never seen people who make as much money, if only you’d share a bit… and just break the ice bring them together a bit and they’ll laugh a bit nervously, and then when the laugh start to become real, we’re in army.
– Oh, when the laugh start to become real, I love that. We’re going to do some quick fire questions, before we close up, we’ll just have some fun with this one, two word three word answers, whatever you like actually, there are no rules in the quickfire questions. So who’s the funniest person you’ve met?
– John Cleese probably. The reason why we were earlier on it just made me laughing, he is just brilliant, even in real life, he just can’t help himself, just funny.
– Would you rather be considered clever or funny.
– [Rene] Funny. Nobody wants to be the cleverest man in the room.
– What book makes you laugh?
– There’s a book called A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, is the funniest, I can’t even get past the first page, I read it at the end of every year, I read it again, it’s A Confederacy of Dunces, you must read it.
– What film makes you laugh?
– Blazing Saddles, every time, wet myself every time, I know the gags coming and I still laugh out loud, and I’m a big Monty Python fan as well.
– Genius, what word makes you laugh.
– [Paul] Pardon?
– Yeah, pardon, pardon, It’s so euphemistic we can use it to tell you off, we can do it to the rejoinder pardon means a million different things, in a million different moments, and on the way you say I can use pardon for a thousand different outcomes.
– What’s not funny?
– What about this racism, all the isms in fact, sexism, racism all the isms aren’t funny, W at the moment we’re starting to push back the tide of the isms. So to me, none of the isms are funny, and that we shouldn’t take them as funny, let’s just get rid of them.
– Desert Island gags, if you could only take one joke with you to a desert Island, what would that joke be Rene?
– Do you know when I was a kid, when I got to university, the present my dad sent me was an LP of Monty Python live at Drury Lane. I’ve still got it, it’s still scratches and the joke that makes my eyes water is The Four Yorkshiremen, you know classic Four Yorkshiremen
– I course I do You were lucky.
– Luxury, It’s just the joke. I’ve heard it told in so many different accents, so many different ways, in so many countries and it gets me every time for you.
– love that, absolutely love that. By the way I was there when The Four Yorkshiremen and to tie up two things, you’ve said you said John CLeese and the Four Yorkshireman sketch, I was there at Drury Lane, I think I was about 10 or 11 years old having been taken by my guitar teacher, Henry Marsh. And I was sat in the first row in the stalls was the first few rows in stalls, and then there’s a gap, and at one point, John Cleese came down the aisle, dressed as an usher, holding… you know the thing they used to hold for ice cream.
– Oh, yes, yes.
– And he had a pelican on there, oh no, they had a Puffin, and he goes,” puffin, pelican who wants you your pelican, get your pelican here.” And I stroked it, and he looked at me and went, “do you want a puffin on a stick?” And it was like, I’d been touched by comedy gods, you know, just being there like that
– Because of him that you’ve had this as part of your essential being since, and this podcast and the work you’re doing, bringing humour, I would say back into the workplace as part of the workplace, part of what we do – essential, and you know, in these four times I’m doing a lot of work, when I say that there’s three things that people are looking for, a bit of clarity, a bit of certainty, a bit of hope and what your doing with humour brings hope back to everyone. and as I keep saying to people, if all you’ve brought to the problem is hope, you’ve done your job already well done to you, sir.
– Oh, well, Rene, when I it’s been an absolute pleasure and I love that you left it on clarity, certainty, and hope. I hope that we get a chance to do this again because your clarity and your certainty around business and humour has been a joy to witness. Thank you so much again.
– My privilege, my friend.
– [Paul] The humourology podcast was hosted by Paul Boross, and produced by Simon Backs, music by Steve Haworth, created direction by Les Hughes and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe, like and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a Big Sky production,