Dr. Laura Gallaher on humor at work, leadership at NASA after crisis, and building a business traveling the world

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Dr. Laura Gallaher joins me from Serbia, where she is part of Remote Year, a community that travels to twelve locations within a year with a cohort of people working remotely.  Laura is an organizational psychologist who studied humor and communication in the workplace and notably completed a dissertation with “that’s what she said” in the title (office fans, anyone?).  With a title like that it was probably clear that Academia would be too limiting for her.

We talk a bit about humor and how it can be helpful or destructive in an organization.  She first points out that “aggressive” humor – even if you mean well is rarely a way to strengthen bonds.  We then talk about how leaders can embrace humor, especially to show their vulnerability, and give their teams more freedom to make mistakes, be open, and be themselves.

After getting her Ph.D., she worked with NASA after the Columbia explosion and worked on some of the toughest “They fell victim to the same thing that could happen in any organization.”  She notes that these factors are prevalent across many organizations, but the stakes are often not life or death.  Her work with a small tech company found that two key elements can help companies transcend hierarchy.  First, the leader is willing to be vulnerable and second, the leader demonstrates both through words and actions that they care deeply about all the people in the organization.

“We hire people for what they think….what we care about is your ability to learn, your ability to think, your ability to grow…creating an environment where the employees opinion and input has value and you ask for it and you seek it out and you actually listen to it, this is where really, really engaged organizations are born and powerful cultures are created”