The massive Dr. Shaquille O’Neal paused before entering the Taubman Atrium in the Meadow’s Fine Arts Center last Friday, Feb. 22nd. Humorously, he leaned back and “limbo-ed” in order to fit through the doors.
Over seven feet tall and approximately 325 pounds, he hulked over every person in the student media news conference. However, this four time NBA champion didn’t come to Southern Methodist University to brag about his championship rings nor did he come to address the athletics program. Rather, he came to speak as a scholar who had graduated this past year with a doctorate from Barry University in Miami, Florida.
Because his doctoral capstone project explored how CEOs and business leaders use humor in the workplace, Dr. O’Neal presented as part of the North East Texas Humor Research Conference. His professor and mentor, Dr. David M. Kopp also answered questions about the value of humor in leadership.
These notable guests combined with Southern Methodist University’s own Dr. Lynch are some of the most notable academics on humor in the country.
Dr. O’Neal and Dr. Kobb took questions from students and members of the audience in the O’Donnell Auditorium. In this moderately intimate environment, one could see what a giant he truly is. Dr. O’Neal’s legs were too long for the chair, his size-22-feet very noticeable.
Dr. O’Neal talked in a relaxed tone about school, saying that he was “cool” with getting Cs, but his professor Dr. Kobb would just make him redo his work. Or referring to his extensive reading for school, he chuckled and said he’d always wanted to use Cliffnotes.com. Although joking about being a slacker in school, Dr. O’Neal spoke with reverence about the importance of education. He encouraged sitting in the front of the room and being competitive in school. Dr. O’Neal explained that his personal motivation to pursue academics came from his parents.
While also concentrating on humor, Dr. O’Neal’s thesis dealt also with leadership. As leader of his old teams, Dr. O’Neal said he was always “thrusted into leadership positions” and it would be up to him to push the team to “focus on the task of winning championships.” He explained how, in a similar way, managers in the workplace must find ways to get workers to perform at different levels.
He explained humor could drive performance. Giving examples from his career, he said “the way I motivate people his unorthodox.” His workplace, the basketball court, was a high stress level environment and he would have to loosen people up and be spontaneous so that they’d have the ability to “go out and win championships.”
He also noted that timing, audience awareness, and situation are key elements when trying to utilize humor. ” Dr. O’Neal said that he felt that between the genders, there’s a difference between what kind of humor should be used. “Women have to be more serious when they lead.” Likewise, he explained through personal stories how he would modify his humor depending on if he were talking to his male or female employees.
As a large man, Dr. Shaquille O’Neal indicated that humor was personally important to him. He uses humor to make people feel confortable around him, “I want people to look at me like a regular person” he said.
Humor has developed into more than just a personal thing to him. In his “Shaq” branding, his commercials stand out because they’re humorous and therefore memorable. Keeping with this, he makes sure his Twitter is “60 percent humor, 30 percent to inspire, and 10 percent to sell stuff.”
At the conclusion of the Keynote, Dr. O’Neal bent down and whispered to Dr. Lynch. Dr. Lynch laughed and allowed Dr. O’Neal to lift him up in his arms; thereby appropriately ending the evening with laughter.