Your experience affects other people’s experience.
In my late twenties I worked on a set of Pan American Games. I worked with a collection of people, all different skill levels, experiences and worldviews. During my time at the Games I met and made friends with a lovely young woman named Angela. We were not fast friends as in my twenties I was untrusting and awkward at making friends with women. I have improved dramatically in that department.
Angela was an extrovert, so fairly opposite to me. She was tall, beautiful and expressive. She could relate to almost anyone in any situation. Now in my forties, I recognize what a magnificent gift that is and how important it is in building relationships.
Angela accepted all of my crazy behaviours and cautions. She laughed at me and with me. She loved to have fun and had a sense of adventure that was almost intoxicating. She had the best smile and she was smart. We became friends and I’d like to think good friends.
Once, when a group of us were hanging out, Angela wanted to see if she forced herself to laugh would it make other people laugh. So she would burst out laughing … and of course, we would all laugh too. I think she even tested this theory at a local restaurant and had much success.
I was thinking about Angela recently as I often do. I remembered her laughing hypothesis, and I smiled and giggled. Then I had an ah-ha moment. I realized how we behave or experience a moment has a direct impact on how other people may experience the same moment. So every experience is an opportunity to use your power for good. Which is exactly what Angela did with her laughter.
In my family, we call someone a fun-sucker when they are literally sucking the fun out of a situation or experience and subsequently ruining it for the rest of us. I guess you could always ignore it or move away from whatever the fun-sucking behaviour is, but it still impacts you and your experience.
In leadership, just like in life, you can enhance or deflate an experience for your team by the way you participate and act in that experience. Let me give you another example.
The first time I visited Las Vegas, I attended a Tom Jones show because, well, why not? I am not an extrovert, so when I attend concerts and events I am usually reserved. Well, as luck or God would have it, my friend Paullie and I were seated at a table with two women from Atlanta whose lifelong dream was to see Tom Jones in concert. I would guess they were in their late thirties or forties, and let me tell you, they were on fire for Tom. I had the best time watching them clap and sing and laugh and scream and oooh and aahhh. My experience of Tom Jones was 100% enhanced by the joy these two women felt. Once again, Angela’s hypothesis was proven correct.
As a leader, I would guess you have a daily opportunity to affect someone positively — to make a situation better by showing and sharing happiness or encouragement or kindness. I’m not telling you to be over-the-top or force yourself to laugh; I’m saying be mindful of how you can set the tone and the feeling. Be mindful of your actions and aura, and how you can impact a situation to make it more delicious for others. I’m saying don’t be a fun-sucker.
Angela was killed in a car accident on December 26th, 1998, approximately seven months before our event. It was the first time I’d lost a close friend. A young person’s death slaps us in the face with the fact that life is precious and fleeting and lacking a guarantee. We were all heavy with sadness.
I think of Angela and her laughing hypothesis from time to time, and I often shed a tear or twenty. I liked her very much. She made my experiences better and I would even say she made me better.
What a gift we are all given to wake up this day and the next and to have a choice to use our powers for good.
May we all use the lessons of our past and of our loss to be better, to use our powers for good.
May we laugh much and often, may we be contagious – in a good way, in an Angela way.