10 leadership lessons from women in comedy

To end a heavy year on a light note, I have gathered a few leadership lessons from some of my favourite women in comedy. Tech and Comedy have that in common that the gender balance is pretty bad and that it sure helps to have a sense of humour if you want to make it. Both fields can either support existing power dynamics or subvert them, and both provide platforms to discuss and shape society, so it is great to see more women role models on both sides. And if you’re not a woman, fear not! In the words of comedic genius Leslie Jones: “I don’t know if y’all heard but Women is the same as Humans” so these 10 leadership lessons work across the whole gender spectrum:

1. Work hard

“Confidence is just entitlement. Entitlement has gotten a bad rap because it’s used almost exclusively for the useless children of the rich, reality TV stars, and Conrad Hilton Jr., who gets kicked off an airplane for smoking pot in the lavatory and calling people peasants or whatever. But entitlement in and of itself isn’t so bad. Entitlement is simply the belief that you deserve something. Which is great. The hard part is, you’d better make sure you deserve it.(…) Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled.”
From Mindy Kaling in Why not me

2. Keep going

“My unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.”
From Tina Fey in Bossy Pants

3. Recognize your mentors

About her mentor Greg Daniels who hired her to work on The Office: “The word mentor is funny because it has a pedagogical, formal feel to it. Greg never sat me down and said, “I believe in you, kid. Now, here, take this antique fountain pen that W.C. Fields gave me and go make something of yourself. He’s always just provided opportunities for me, set an example of how to be a leader, invited me to his house for dinner sometimes, and sat in consoling silence across from me when I was going through heartbreak.”
From Mindy Kaling in Why not me

4. Embrace the yes

“I love saying “yes” and I love saying “please”. Saying “yes” doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying “please” doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission. “Yes please” sounds powerful and concise. It’s a response and a request. It is not about being a good girl; it is about being a real woman.”
From Amy Poehler in Yes, please!

5. Make statements

“Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions. No one wants to go to a doctor who says, “I’m going to be your surgeon? I’m here to talk to you about your procedure? I was first in my class at John Hopkins, so?” Make statements, with your actions and your voice.”
From Tina Fey in Bossy Pants

6. Be comfortable being confident

“A general assumption about confidence is that women, particularly young women, will have very little of it, and girls will have zero of it. Just the attitude alone makes me sad: “We have to help our girls and teach them to be confident.” Well, guess what, young girls. You aren’t damsels in distress. You aren’t hostages to the words of your peers. You aren’t the victims that even your well-meaning teachers and advocates think you are.”
From Mindy Kaling in Why not me

7. Say “sorry” but not too much

“I say ‘sorry’ a lot. (…) But this doesn’t mean I am a pushover. It doesn’t mean I am afraid of conflict or don’t know how to stand up for myself. I am getting to a place right in the middle where I feel good about exactly how much I apologize. It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for. It takes years to find your voice and seize your real estate.”
From Amy Poehler in Yes, please!

8. Don’t micromanage

“Why is this book called Bossypants? One, because the title Two and a Half Men was already taken. And two, because ever since I became an executive producer of 30 Rock, people have asked me, “Is it hard for you, being the boss?” and “Is it uncomfortable for you to be the person in charge?” You know, in that same way they say, “Gosh, Mr Trump, is it awkward for you to be the boss of all these people?” I can’t answer for Mr Trump, but in my case it is not. I’ve learned a lot over the past ten years about what it means to be the boss of people. In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.”
From Tina Fey in Bossy Pants

9. Fail and move on

“What I learned about bombing at Saturday Night is that you can’t be too worried about your “permanent record”. Yes, you’re going to write some sketches that you love and are proud of forever – your golden nuggets. But you’re also going to write some real shit nuggets. And unfortunately, sometimes the shit nuggets will make it onto the air. You can’t worry about it. As long as you know the difference, you can go back to panning for gold on Monday.”
From Tina Fey in Bossy Pants

10. Treat your career like a bad boyfriend

“Too often we are told to visualize what we want and cut out pictures of it and repeat it like a mantra over and over again. (…) I am introducing a new idea. Try to care less. Practice ambivalence. Learn to let go of wanting it. Treat your career like a bad boyfriend.

Creativity is connected to your passion, that light inside you that drives you. That joy that comes when you do something you love. (…) Career is different. Career is the stringing together of opportunities and jobs. Mix in public opinion and past regrets. Add a dash of future panic and a whole lot of financial insecurity. Career is something that fools you into thinking you are in control and then takes pleasure into reminding you that you aren’t. Career is the thing that fills you up and never make you truly whole. Depending on your career is like eating cake for breakfast and then wondering why you start crying an hour later.

Remember, your career is a bad boyfriend. It likes it when you don’t depend on it. It will reward you every time you don’t act needy. It will chase you if you act like other things (passion, friendship, family, longevity) are more important to you. If your career is a bad boyfriend, it is healthy to remember you can always leave and go sleep with somebody else.”
From Amy Poehler in Yes, please!

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