You Don’t Have To Be Serious To Be Taken Seriously

My motto for any team I’ve led in my 20+ (ouch) year career is to do great work and have fun doing it. While I only turned this approach into words a year or so ago, I recognize that every team I’ve ever loved working with shares this sentiment. My long tenure on the agency side instilled it in me: you can’t work those kind of hours without it. But I felt compelled to cement it because my jump to the client side ultimately landed me in financial services. It’s a serious category for an understandable reason: you don’t want to screw with people’s money. But all that means is our work ethic and the products and strategies we develop as a result have to be serious, it doesn’t mean we as people have to be serious. It’s really easy to get these two things confused.

In fact, I believe levity is the most underused resource in Corporate America.

Work is funny! Look at success of The Office, Office Space, FedEx advertising of old (soft plug for my husband, the brand’s long-time Creative Director.) These masterpieces were only possible because of the material from which they were inspired. And we can all laugh at this stuff because it’s so true.

Or look at brands in serious categories with highly entertaining creative work. Do you take Geico, for example, as a less serious insurer because their ads are funny? Was there ever a better Super Bowl ad than this one from E*TRADE? Both of these brands start from very smart (serious) insights but choose to answer those insights with very funny (un-serious) ads.

Work is most productive and rewarding when it doesn’t feel like work. In order for that to happen, people need to feel free to be themselves. I am absolutely serious about being the best I can be – mom, wife, friend, sister, daughter, employee, colleague, boss – and ask anyone who lives with, works with or socializes with me: I have super high expectations. But my approach is approachable, fair and fun. I love to laugh. I can make fun of myself, I poke fun at other people and I acknowledge the crazy in situations. If I relegated this natural “me” to just my personal affairs, I’d lose out on 75% of life. And the work I develop wouldn’t be as good. Guaranteed.

A common back-handed compliment… “So-and-so is actually really cool outside of work.” Don’t fear being discovered as a normal person outside of work. Be you always. If that is super serious, so be it. If not, start addressing emails with “Hi” in front of people’s names (and rid yourself of the dreaded colon), use an exclamation point in an email without fear of retribution, and crack a joke or two at your next meeting.


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