Leadership through humor, the comedy theories of Dr. Shaquille O’Neal, Ph.D.

“Happy employees = happy customers. Happy customers = happy shareholders.”

That’s what Shaquille O’Neal told CBS News he had learned by May 2012, when he received his Doctorate in Education degree from Barry University, a private Catholic college in Miami.

Casual observers — such as the upward of 6.8 million who follow @Shaq on Twitter, or the millions more who’ve seen Shaq’s TNT basketball commentary, Shaq’s All-Star Comedy Jam on tour, TV and/or DVD, or even now, too, on truTV’s Upload with Shaquille O’Neal — can see and could have seen long ago that the big man has a sense of humor.

To drive home that point personally: My one and only “favorite” designated Tweet is from Shaq, back on April 18, 2009, when he replied to Oprah simply: “ur caps r on, btw”

But we didn’t really learn more about Shaq’s academic thoughts on comedy last year, as his doctoral dissertation reportedly was only oral presentation, “How Leaders Utilize Humor and Seriousness in Leadership Styles.” That’s what Sun-Sentinel columnist Michael Mayo found.

Until the last weekend in February.

Shaq delivered a keynote address on Feb. 22, 2013, at the third annual North East Texas Humor Research Conference, held on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Before you try to wrap your head around why a humor research conference would be so regionally specific as to even separate Northeast Texas into North and East, let alone the rest of that phrase (if you’d like to name-drop all of the other academic humor research conference in the comments below, go for it; otherwise keep reading), just stay focused on the big guy. Shaq. Dr. Shaq, that is. What can the good doctor teach us about comedy?

Let’s take a look at his keynote!


(h/t to Chelsey Delaney)

Shaq’s keynote, “Half Serious 70% of the Time: Humor’s Role in Leadership,” gives us a window into his outlook which earned him that doctorate. Particularly since he delivered it alongside his faculty advisor, David M. Kopp.

Why are you still getting sidetracked by Barry University? Yes, it was founded in 1940 as a women’s Catholic college, and yes, it’s the same last name as an NBA Hall of Famer or two. That’s not telling us anything more about Shaq’s comedy theories, is it? Focus, people!

Shaq writes:

“Consider, humor is part of the Shaquille O’Neal brand, if you will. I frequently utilize humor with my employees and colleagues alike to get my ideas across, as well as a specific tactic to improve performance of followers. For example, recently one of my employees made a significant error on a project, and this was our interaction; I began:
Okay, let’s change roles for a second, so you are me, and I am you. Now, tell me what you would do in a situation as damaging as this — what would you say to me right now?
(The employee thought a bit and responded) You would say that I expect more out of you and this is unacceptable and better never happen again.
My God, yes, you’re a mind reader! Have a great day and kiss the kids for me.

OMG LOL ROTFL no really?

That joke of Shaq’s probably didn’t get as many RTs and FAVs as this one-liner he typed on Twitter later that evening while watching his own colleagues on TNT: “Nice big momma legs chuck barkley” (This six-word roast earned him 779 RTs and 422 FAVs on Twitter)

For the record, SMU’s paper, The Daily Record, quoted Shaq also saying that day in February: “I use humor to show people that, even though I have this monstrous frame and I’m a competitive animal, I’m still a normal person and a nice guy.”

And this from Shaq on using humor in the workplace:

“Leaders have to make tough decisions whether to focus on the task or the relationship,” O’Neal said. “When you’re dealing with humor, you’re focused on the relationship. If your focus is to accomplish a task, you’re dealing with seriousness.”

On her blog Silence Before The Applause, SMU student Monica wrote that Shaq touched on the importance of timing, situation and audience in delivering humor — as well as the gender makeup of your audience. “Women have to be more serious when they lead,” O’Neal reportedly said. Why so serious, ladies? Tell us, Dr. Shaq!

As for his own brand on that popular Twitter account? Shaq said he keeps @Shaq balanced according to a formula that seems to work for him: “60 percent humor, 30 percent to inspire, and 10 percent to sell stuff.”

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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